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Seasonal Affective Disorder and Substance Abuse

Resurgence Behavioral Health Seasonal Affective Disorder and Substance Abuse

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder are known contributors to substance abuse disorders. During the winter months, mental health issues can worsen or develop, especially depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is much more than the “winter blues.” It is a severe type of clinical depression that usually occurs around the same time every year, affecting mood, sleep, energy, and appetite. Like other mental health disorders, it can contribute to addiction or relapse and requires help for mental health and addiction treatment for co-occurring disorders.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a clinical form of depression that affects people around the same year. Usually, it begins in late fall or early winter and goes away in the spring or summer months. Decreased sunlight, changes in sleep patterns, and changes to a person’s circadian rhythm, their internal clock causes biochemical changes in the brain, causing depression that can be so severe it interferes with their day-to-day functioning.

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Risk Factors for Developing SAD

According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 5% of U.S. adults suffer from SAD and usually experience symptoms about 40% of the year. Not all parts of the U.S. have the same amount of daylight hours, especially during the winter, and generally, the farther away a person lives from the equator, the more likely they are to develop symptoms of SAD.

Other factors play a role in the likelihood of someone developing symptoms. Symptoms first appear more likely between 18 and 30, although some children and teens are also affected. Women are four times more likely than men to be diagnosed with SAD. Also, family history and existing mood disorders, like those with bipolar disorder or generalized anxiety disorder, are more likely to be diagnosed as well.

The precise cause of the seasonal affective disorder is unknown, but studies show that lack of sunlight causes specific biochemical changes in the body. It can lower serotonin levels, which is one of the brain’s neurotransmitters responsible for feelings of well-being and happiness. Darkness signals the body to release melatonin, which helps regulate sleep and wake cycles, and overproduction of it can cause oversleeping or lack of daytime energy. It can also cause underproduction of Vitamin D, leading to depressive symptoms.

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Symptoms of wintertime SAD can range from mild to severe and are generally similar to major depression, such as:

  • Feeling hopeless
  • Feeling Worthless
  • Depressed mood
  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Sleep problems
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • Agitation
  • Sluggishness
  • Sleeping too much
  • Overeating and weight gain
  • Carb cravings
  • Withdrawing socially

Although much less common, SAD can also occur in the summer months due to over-exposure to sunlight, which can wreak havoc on a person’s internal clock. Symptoms can be similar to winter SAD, but during the summer, they can be more prone to:

  • Lack of appetite and weight loss
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Violent outbursts

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Individualized treatment programs delivered in a comfortable, relaxed setting promote healing in your recovery journey.

The Connection Between Seasonal Depression and Substance Abuse

Like other mental health disorders, many choose to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to combat the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Lack of energy can cause some individuals to turn to stimulants to get through their day. Others may try to numb the pain from depression with drugs or alcohol.

Depression, like in SAD, and addiction are linked, which exist as a co-occurring disorder in many who abuse substances. When an individual develops symptoms of SAD, such as feeling depressed, worthless, or loss of pleasure, they can turn to drugs or alcohol if they do not have proper coping mechanisms.

Self-medicating with drugs or alcohol can lead to dependence and addiction to those substances. Individuals may start relying more and more on the substance to get through as the days get shorter. The body then gets used to the synthetic chemicals and makes even less of its own feel-good biochemicals, creating a reliance. Once the person realizes they may have a substance abuse problem and stop using, they develop withdrawal symptoms and go back to using to offset those side effects.

This process results in a dangerous cycle in which Seasonal Affective Disorder propagates addiction, and then the symptoms of addiction worsen the symptoms of SAD. Research shows that individuals who seasonally use substances often experience SAD, which can lead to addiction even after the winter months are over.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Mental Health and Addiction

For a long time, addiction treatment focused on the addiction itself and shifted focus on treating the mental health disorder. However, after many decades, research has shown that dual diagnosis patients treated for addiction and co-occurring disorders simultaneously have a much better and longer-lasting chance of recovery.

A successful mental health and addiction treatment program will tailor to each individual patient. Dual Diagnosis treatment will include targeted clinical care focused on treating the particular problem each patient faces, including their unique symptoms of SAD. This is why beginning treatment with a thorough evaluation is critical for creating an individualized plan.

Patients who suffer from SAD and substance abuse disorder need both conditions to be treated concurrently. Only treating addiction and not seasonal affective disorder may trigger a relapse when SAD sets in again the following year.

Many forms of therapy can help treat substance abuse and SAD together, such as psychotherapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a core part of treatment as well, which aims to help individuals change their harmful thoughts and behaviors into more accurate and functional ones. Studies have shown that cognitive-behavioral therapy specifically for SAD helps patients have fewer symptoms the following winter. Medication may also be needed in certain individuals. Usually, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are a type of antidepressant, are prescribed.

Since SAD is believed to be caused by lack of exposure to sunlight, one of the primary forms of treatment is increased exposure to light or phototherapy. This involves sitting for at least 20 minutes a day in front of a light therapy box. Even though phototherapy is not readily available in all treatment centers offering mental health and addiction treatment, many of these centers are located in sunnier climates, which can be very beneficial for those affected with SAD.

Often, addiction treatment starts with detox, which can either be done cold turkey or with medical assistance, which we recommend. With the help of a trained medical professional, detox can be done using prescription drugs to help ease the withdrawal symptoms or make the process much safer.

Addiction Treatment that
Just Works

Individualized treatment programs delivered in a comfortable, relaxed setting promote healing in your recovery journey.

Treatment for Substance Abuse and Co-Occurring Disorders at Resurgence

Mental health disorders and addiction go hand-in-hand, and treating co-occurring disorders is key to a successful and long-term recovery. At Resurgence Behavioral Health, we offer personalized mental health and addiction treatment, including treatment for symptoms related to Seasonal Affective Disorder.

We offer a wide range of treatments, such as medically assisted treatment to ease withdrawal symptoms, individual and group therapy, and even holistic treatment options, like art therapy, to create individualized plans for our clients. Our programs help find and address underlying causes contributing to your substance abuse disorder, including co-occurring mental health issues such as seasonal affective disorder. Our patient-centered approach aims to treat the whole person and help you overcome Seasonal Affective Disorder year after year.

Our treatment programs are tailored to each client and their lifestyle needs. Starting with our detox process, which can be medically assisted, our clients move towards either an inpatient or outpatient program, depending on which level of assistance is needed. Even though inpatient programs are highly recommended, we understand that life’s responsibilities, such as family, work, or school, cannot always be placed on hold and offer an outpatient program.

It is common to feel a change in your mood or more fatigued during the winter months, but if these symptoms become severe enough to impact your life and struggle to get through each day, talk to a medical professional about the seasonal affective disorder. If you are turning to drugs or alcohol to help deal with these issues but cannot stop using, is affecting your day-to-day life, or making your symptoms worse, our treatment programs can help you. If you or someone you love is experiencing SAD or other depression symptoms along with substance abuse disorder, reach out to us at (855) 458-0050 today to start your road to recovery using our mental health and addiction treatment methods. You can also use these tips on how to let your friends and family know you’re entering rehab.

Addiction Treatment that
Just Works

Individualized treatment programs delivered in a comfortable, relaxed setting promote healing in your recovery journey.

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