Winter’s gray skies, cold temperatures and precipitation are more than a cause of discomfort and inconvenience. For over 10 million Americans, winter brings on a type of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). A much higher number (around 10 to 20 percent of the population) may also suffer from a mild form of the condition. Seasonal affective disorder is a more defined condition than the “winter blahs” experienced by most all of us. It is a mood disorder with a predictable set of symptoms that (1) return every year as days grow shorter, and (2) last four to five months. SAD affects people in every part of the country, even in areas like Northern New Mexico where winters are generally mild and clear. It may also be an unrecognized condition affecting individuals who enter treatment for drug and alcohol dependency during the fall and winter months.
Recognizing the Symptoms of SAD in Recovering Individuals
When misuse of drugs or alcohol is present, the symptoms of SAD may not be readily recognized. A thorough and comprehensive diagnostic interview upon treatment entry is the best way to identify SAD as a co-occurring condition. Telltale symptoms of SAD include, but are not limited to:
- Decreased energy level
- Lack of enthusiasm
- Difficulty waking from sleep
- Longer periods of sleeping
- Cravings for sweets & carbohydrates
- Overeating & weight gain
- Increased irritability & anxiety
- Inability to concentrate
- Loss of productivity at work
- Acute sensitivity to rejection
- Withdrawal from family & friends
- Headaches & other physical symptoms
When a person suffers from seasonal affective disorder, symptom onset corresponds to the shorter days that arrive with autumn. However, many of these symptoms also occur with addiction and mental illnesses, making it difficult to spot symptom seasonality. Like the dual-diagnosis of other conditions, recognizing SAD in addicted individuals requires the specialized skills and diagnostic interview of a trained clinician.
What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Researchers have not yet discovered a definitive cause for SAD. Because this type of depression occurs regularly with the change in seasons, scientists speculate it may be due to a disruption in Circadian rhythms. Other theories link the disorder’s cause to biochemical irregularities in the body, including:
- Melatonin, which regulates sleep
- Serotonin, a mood neurotransmitter
- Vitamin D, which affects depression
Like other co-occurring conditions, SAD symptoms may have been a contributing factor in the development of drug or alcohol addiction in persons seeking treatment. In order to succeed in recovery, these individuals must become aware of the condition, receive treatment for it—and learn self-management techniques.
An Individualized Addiction or Dual-Diagnosis Recovery Plan
When SAD is present, achieving long-term recovery depends on treating the recurring seasonal depression as well the addiction. In many ways, drug and alcohol recovery and SAD treatment overlap. Both conditions benefit from adherence to a regular schedule, to include:
- Increased physical exercise
- Participation in new interests
- Social contacts & activities
- Nutritious & varied diet
- Education in coping with cravings
- Use of vitamin supplements
- Practicing meditation & mindfulness
- Regular sleep regimen
In addition, persons who suffer from SAD may experience depression improvement from cognitive behavioral therapy and other clinical treatments used to overcome substance use disorders. The addition of intensive light therapy should also be a part of any addiction treatment plan when SAD is a co-occurring condition, since 70 percent of SAD patients respond favorably to increased light exposure during winter months.
Guiding You Through Your Unique Recovery Journey
Treatment for drug and alcohol addiction at Vista Taos meets you where you are and creates an individualized treatment plan. Our team of specialists equips you with the tools, clinical treatment and support you need to succeed in long-term recovery. The Vista Taos program takes a medical, psychological and spiritual approach to your healing, and expertise includes medical detox, 12-step curriculum, holistic therapies and extended care.
Set in the breathtaking scenery of Northern New Mexico, Vista Taos inspires you or your loved one with a sense of optimism that recognizes the possibilities of a meaningful life in sobriety. Take the first step toward addiction healing today. Call to speak confidentially with our admissions team at 575.613.4810 or connect with us online and we’ll reach out to you promptly.