What is SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorser) and Can it Lead to Addiction?

Seasonal Affective Disorder and Addiction

Michelle Rosenker

August 21, 2019

It’s not uncommon for people to feel slightly down during the colder months, as sunlight fades and the air grows bitter. Most people will feel this way at least once during the colder seasons.

However, seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a mood disorder that occurs during specific seasons. This is a clinical condition, as opposed to a fleeting feeling that can negatively impact a person’s life. People with seasonal affective disorder run a higher risk for obesity, social withdrawal, substance use disorders, unemployment, and suicide.

Today, 10 million people in the U.S. live with seasonal affective disorder. American women experience seasonal affective disorder four times more than men. It is typical for seasonal affective disorder to begin in the fall, extending into the winter months. It is much less likely to occur during the springtime or summer, though it does happen.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include the following:

  • Feeling depressed for all or most of the day nearly every day
  • No longer having interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Low energy
  • Sleep problems
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Problems concentrating
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty
  • Experiencing thoughts of death or suicide

Symptoms associated with fall and winter seasonal affective disorder include:

  • Change in appetite, with specific cravings for carbohydrates
  • Sleeping too much
  • Gaining weight
  • Low energy

Symptoms of spring and summer seasonal affective disorder include:

  • Problems sleeping (insomnia)
  • Weight loss
  • Lack of appetite
  • Anxiety or agitation

In all its forms, the symptoms of this disorder can be difficult to manage, and many people tend to ignore their severity. Unfortunately, allowing these symptoms to occur only increases one’s risk for drinking or abusing substances, which can lead to addiction.

SAD in Franklin

Dangers of Seasonal Affective Disorder and Addiction

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that approximately 20 percent of those diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder also live with a substance use disorder. The symptoms linked to seasonal affective disorder—such as agitation, low energy, and problems sleeping—can be exacerbated when drugs or alcohol are being abused.

Conversely, a substance use disorder can be made worse when seasonal affective disorder occurs. Allowing both conditions to co-occur alongside one another can be a recipe for disaster, and can be dangerous in the following ways:

  • Increased risk for suicidal behaviors. Because SAD is a mood disorder, those who have it are already at greater risk for feeling suicidal or engaging in suicidal behaviors. Several substances, such as opioids and alcohol, can also cause feelings of depression, thus elevating one’s risk for suicidal behaviors.
  • Decreased ability to manage stress. Stress is something everyone has to deal with, but when a person has seasonal affective disorder, even the smallest things can stress him or her out. The ability to manage stress becomes compromised by the disorder itself, often leading individuals to abuse drugs or alcohol. The more that a person’s stress management techniques erode, the more he or she is likely to use.
  • The encouragement of continual substance abuse. No matter if the seasonal affective disorder or the substance use disorder came first, the core symptoms of each condition can perpetuate this co-occurring disorder. For example, not sleeping enough due to drug-induced insomnia can impact one’s overall functionality, which can affect decision-making skills, attention span, mental sharpness, and physical health. When the body and mind are weakened by a lack of sleep, a person is more likely to self-medicate to try and alleviate these issues.

When clinical issues are occurring simultaneously, other problems can develop, such as chronic unemployment, financial issues, frequent conflicts with loved ones, social isolation, lack of good hygiene, and even encounters with the law. The best way to address seasonal affective disorder and a substance use disorder is through professional dual diagnosis treatment.

Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder and Addiction

As with any other co-occurring disorder, seasonal affective disorder and addiction require comprehensive treatment that focuses on both issues at the same time. In previous decades, when someone had more than one mental health condition at the same time, healthcare providers would only treat one issue at a time. However, research has shown that dual diagnoses like SAD and substance use disorder play off one another so much that addressing them at the same time is imperative.

Depending on the needs and specific circumstances of a person with both seasonal affective disorder and substance use disorder, he or she will likely receive a combination of both medication and therapy by way of treatment.

Medications like antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications can help improve brain chemistry, and are often prescribed in an effort to boost mood. Other medications can control the cravings that occur after detox.  Along with medication, individuals can also participate in therapy sessions designed to help them address the issues behind their substance use disorder. These therapies can include individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, experiential therapy, trauma therapy, and behavioral therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).

Seasonal affective disorder and substance use disorders are conditions that can be treated, however they cannot be cured. The only way to properly manage them is through professional help that can help individuals develop skills to keep their conditions from getting out of control.

Get Help Now

At JourneyPure in Franklin, we understand how difficult it can be to have two major conditions occurring at the same time. Our team of professionals is ready and able to help you overcome the challenges you are facing so that you can live a happy, healthy life.