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The Link Between Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and Substance Abuse

A recent study from the University of Pittsburgh with data from the World Health Organization and the World Meteorological Organization found that as temperatures and sunlight hours decrease, alcohol consumption and binge drinking increase. Shorter hours of sunlight and cooler temperatures also correlates with higher rates of depression, which is also linked to an increase in drinking.

Often, the isolation associated with cold or inclement weather can make just about anyone feel down. You simply lack the energy felt during warmer months. For those living with depression, the winter blues can make bad days all that much harder. It is oftentimes referred to as seasonal affective disorder or SAD.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

The Mayo Clinic defines seasonal affective disorder (SAD) as a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons. It generally occurs in the late fall or winter months, but can also occur in the spring or early summer. When affected, you may notice moodiness, a lack of energy, and a diminished feeling of overall wellbeing. Treatment for SAD is conducted under a doctor’s care and may include psychotherapy and medications.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs or symptoms of seasonal affective disorder can start out very mild, but gradually become more severe throughout the season.

  • Feeling sad for a prolonged length of time
  • An increase in drug or alcohol consumption
  • Losing interest in hobbies / activities
  • Diminished energy
  • Sleeping too much
  • Weight gain
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Hopelessness
  • Guilty feelings
  • Suicidal thoughts

Causes of Depression

Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest, according to the Mayo Clinic. Depression, left untreated, over prolonged periods can lead to more harmful effects to the body and in some severe cases, death or suicide.

There is no exact cause of depression, as a variety of factors may be involved, including:

  • Trauma
  • Age or gender
  • Loss and grief
  • Genetics or family history
  • Significant events
  • Personal problems
  • Major illness
  • Substance abuse

How to Deal with Depression and Substance Abuse

Addiction, when coupled with depression, is tricky because they both can be triggered by bad days. In most cases of depression, feelings of unhappiness do not go away easily. Drinking alcohol or using a substance (both legal and illegal) can lead a person to the same symptoms of depression. Even though substance and alcohol use can shield someone’s negative thoughts and feelings, the improved mood is only temporary. Additionally, alcohol and drug use may mask a more serious underlying mental illness.

People experiencing a dual diagnosis of depression and substance use or alcohol use disorder should consider professional help, as these illnesses are treatable. Lack of professional treatment in severe cases may lead to hospitalization, or worse.

Finding Treatment for SAD and Substance Use Disorder

Depressive disorders, including seasonal affective disorder, are serious and should be treated by a professional. When someone living with untreated depression also uses drugs and/or alcohol to make themselves feel better, the outcome can be dangerous.

The “winter blues” can affect anyone. For some, this time of year can be especially difficult, permeated with feelings of isolation and deep sadness. Understanding this, it is important for all of us to periodically reach out to friends or family members who might need some additional support. If you’re struggling with SAD, stay in close contact with someone you trust.

If you feel you are beyond help or support from a friend or family member, turn to the trusted professionals at Plum Creek Recovery Ranch. We can help you find the assistance you need to live a happier, healthier life.

Located just outside of Austin, Texas on 200 acres of working ranch land, Plum Creek Recovery Ranch offers a comprehensive, clinical program that addresses the whole person–body, mind, and spirit. For more information or for a confidential assessment with one of our licensed counselors, call 512-398-3000.

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