How Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Can Impact Addiction Recovery

How Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Can Impact Addiction Recovery

Depending on where you live, this time of year can be difficult for those struggling with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). As the days become shorter and the nights grow longer, people feel isolated and experience symptoms of depression. Developing SAD is common, especially for individuals who love spending time outdoors and in the sun. 

SAD can also be more detrimental to men who already struggle with depression or a substance use disorder (SUD). For them, current symptoms may intensify and lead to other mental health issues or increase the risk of relapse. 

We may not be able to avoid these dark days, but we can prevent those dark times. Prioritizing recovery and checking in with your sober community are great ways to reduce the risk of relapse. To fully prepare, it will help you to learn more about SAD and its impact on your addiction recovery. 

What Is SAD?

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) describes SAD as a type of depression that causes mood changes when the seasons change. It can also cause negative thoughts, feelings, and actions. People start to feel sad “when the days get shorter in the fall and winter,” and their mood improves when the days get longer in the spring. While, on average, SAD manifests in the late fall or early winter, some people also experience it in the summer. The NIMH defines depressive symptoms in the winter as winter-pattern SAD or winter depression, and depressive symptoms during the summer are called summer-pattern SAD or summer depression. 

Some research indicates that women are four times more likely to develop SAD than men, but that does not make you immune. Men can still develop it, and the best way to counteract its symptoms is to learn about it. Recognizing the signs should help you determine if you are struggling. 

Signs and Symptoms of SAD

Though it is a type of depression, SAD is a distinct disorder with a separate diagnosis. However, symptoms do typically mimic many symptoms of major depression. Some of those symptoms, as indicated by the NIMH, include: 

  • Feeling depressed all day, every day 
  • Loss of interest in enjoyable activities or hobbies 
  • Lack of appetite 
  • Changes in weight 
  • Difficulty sleeping and feeling sluggish 
  • Feeling agitated or irritable 
  • Trouble concentrating 
  • Feeling hopeless 
  • Experiencing thoughts of death or suicide 

Symptoms typically last about four to five months and depend on whether you are struggling with winter or summer depression. 

Additionally, symptoms may vary between winter and summer depression. For example, those with winter-pattern SAD may overeat, gain weight, withdraw socially, and experience hypersomnia. Summer-pattern SAD symptoms can vary slightly. You may experience insomnia and anxiety, feel restless, have a poor appetite – causing weight loss – and have episodes of violence. 

SAD Diagnosis

As mentioned, SAD comes with its own diagnosis. According to the NIMH, a SAD diagnosis requires: 

  • Symptoms of major depression or SAD symptoms
  • Experiencing these symptoms during a season – winter or summer months – for at least two consecutive years 
  • Depressive episodes must be more frequent when compared to other times of the year 

If you suspect you are experiencing SAD symptoms, discuss it with your doctor, therapist, or clinician. A dual-diagnosis treatment can help you manage SAD and addiction simultaneously. 

What Is Dual Diagnosis?

According to the American Medical Association, one in three people with a mental health disorder has SUD. Struggling with substance use and mental health at the same time is called a dual diagnosis, which requires you to seek treatment for all conditions you experience. 

Upon entering addiction treatment, discuss if you have been diagnosed with depression or SAD or have experienced symptoms. An integrated treatment plan will address all conditions and teach you how to manage symptoms in recovery. The depressive symptoms of SAD can increase your risk for relapse unless you can effectively manage those symptoms. 

Managing SAD Symptoms

Professional help teaches you how to manage symptoms, but the real question is how to prevent SAD from impacting your recovery. Continuing therapy post-treatment is one thing you can do. Talk therapy allows you to discuss your feelings, vent, and learn new coping techniques. In some cases, a specialist may be required, but for the most part, attending therapy as needed should help. 

Another great way to manage symptoms is by practicing self-care. Self-care involves taking care of your body, mind, and soul. Methods of practicing self-care include: 

  • Exercising every day 
  • Eating nutritious foods 
  • Meditation and practicing mindfulness 
  • Spending time outdoors 
  • Journaling 
  • Find a passion or hobby to focus on 
  • Spend time with your support network  
  • Prioritize sufficient quality sleep 
  • Enjoy your favorite shows or movies 
  • Read a favorite book

Without things like practicing self-care, attending therapy, and developing healthy coping techniques, SAD can have a devastating impact on your addiction recovery. 

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a common type of depression that causes mood changes when the seasons change. Symptoms typically begin in the late fall or early winter and last four to five months until spring or summer. However, some men may experience symptoms in the summer. In either case, SAD can impact your addiction recovery if you do not have the proper coping tools. You can manage your symptoms and reduce the risk of relapse by going to therapy and support meetings and practicing self-care. Healing Pines Recovery can help you If you are living with an active addiction and experiencing SAD symptoms. Call (720) 575-2621 to start your recovery journey today. 

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