The Link Between Seasonal Depression and Addiction

About twenty percent of Americans experience some form of seasonal affective disorder. [1] Although the symptoms are usually contained to several months of the year, it can be especially difficult on people in recovery, particularly during the winter.

At Extra Mile Recovery, we know that those in recovery often find themselves battling mental illness along with addiction, which is why our Dual Diagnosis Treatment program provides specialized therapy for those with co-occurring mental health or mood disorders. But how does addiction correlate with SAD, and what can be done to help manage its effects?

Drug and Alcohol Rehab Program During Holidays

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder (often called seasonal depression or abbreviated quite appropriately as SAD) is a type of major depressive disorder related to the changes in seasons, usually starting in the fall and ending in the spring. It typically occurs at the same time every year.

Since SAD is a type of depression, its symptoms are similar, and can include:                       

  • Sadness
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Social withdrawal
  • Sleeping more

Researchers don’t know what exactly causes SAD. Some suggest that it is a result of less sunlight during the colder months; studies done on SAD in the northern versus southern regions of the United States seem to corroborate this. [1] The lack of sunlight can cause chemical imbalances in some individuals, which puts people who are already struggling with mental illnesses and addiction at an even greater risk for SAD.

How Can SAD Affect Addiction?

The overlap between mental illness and substance abuse is significant; in fact, about 43% of individuals in treatment for abuse of prescription painkillers alone have symptoms of anxiety and depression. [2] Many people who struggle with mental illness use substances to self-medicate, which is why dual diagnosis treatment is crucial in the recovery process.

The fact that there is such a strong correlation between mental illness and substance abuse, and another strong correlation between preexisting mental illnesses and SAD, means that SAD can put your sobriety in jeopardy.

To those diagnosed with a mental illness who find their symptoms become more severe during the winter months, SAD may be the culprit, which may cause them to reach for substances to lessen the effects.

How to Manage SAD in Recovery

Like with any other illness — including addiction — addressing the symptoms without addressing their underlying causes is not effective treatment in the long run, especially if SAD is co-occurring alongside substance use disorder (or SUD).

Although behavioral changes such as eating healthier, exercising, and exposure to brighter lighting have been suggested to help address the symptoms of SAD, sometimes these are not enough to treat a severe chemical imbalance, especially for individuals in recovery.

While medication may be recommended by a medical professional to treat SAD, the addition of substance abuse disorder makes the issue a little more complex. Managing SAD and SUD together requires individualized treatment that can address both concurrently, exploring how deeply the two are entangled and how to overcome the challenges both can present in recovery.

Holiday Season Addiction Treatment

Dual Diagnosis Treatment in Mississippi

For those in recovery who have already been diagnosed with a co-occurring disorder, dual diagnosis treatment programs like ours at Extra Mile Recovery provide personalized, holistic care that helps to disentangle the effects of addiction and mental illness.

We work together with each of our clients to explore the root causes of both, and counsel and coach them on how to maintain sobriety and ultimately take back control of their lives. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction alongside seasonal depression or other mental illnesses, contact Extra Mile Recovery today at 662-810-4146.

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