Seasonal Affective Disorder and Addiction Information

Seasonal Affective Disorder and Addiction<

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and addiction are two conditions that often occur at the same time. They can be debilitating for many people. For those with SAD, it's not surprising that they might choose to begin using substances. Quite often, they don't know any other way to feel better.

Seasonal Affective Disorder Information

Some professionals refer to seasonal affective disorder as the winter blues. It is actually a type of major depressive disorder that reoccurs every year. According to Psychology Today:

  • SAD affects about 10 million people in the United States every year.
  • As many as 20% of Americans may be suffering from a milder form of seasonal affective disorder.
  • Seasonal affective disorder is four times more common in women than in men.
  • 6% of people with SAD experience symptoms that are so severe that they need hospitalization.
  • For many people, season affective disorder drastically affects the quality of their lives.
  • Most people develop SAD between the ages of 18 and 30.

Many times, people look at seasonal affective disorder as a joke. They claim that they always get sad during the winter months. They'll spend the colder months of the year feeling depressed. However, SAD is anything but a joke. For those who suffer from it, it can be devastating to the way they live their lives.

At Northpoint Washington, we understand how difficult seasonal affective disorder can be. It is recognized by the DSM-V as a diagnosable condition that falls under the heading of major depression. It's quite common for people to suffer from both SAD and addiction at the same time.

Perhaps that's the situation you're currently facing right now. You may be feeling confused as to why these symptoms develop around the colder months of the year. Many people are, and they can't understand why they feel better in the spring and summer months. Seasonal affective disorder may be one of the less commonly diagnosed mental health conditions in the U.S. If you have it, it's important for you to know as much about it as you can.

This is even truer if you are also struggling with an addiction. Learning how SAD and addiction affect each other can give you incredible insight into your own condition.

Understanding what Seasonal Affective Disorder is

“As leaves fall and light fades, a part of me is dying…and then one morning I wake up and I'm gone.” – Anonymous

Seasonal affective disorder is a type of major depressive disorder that fluctuates throughout the year. In most cases, it begins once the weather starts to get colder during the fall months. It will then persist through winter, and start to fade in the spring.

It takes some time in order to be diagnosed with SAD, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Individuals have to meet the criteria for a major depressive disorder that coincides with specific seasons for at least two years. This means they must meet the following criteria:

  • Feeling depressed throughout most of the day
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Low energy levels
  • Having no interest in once-favorite activities
  • Problems with sleep
  • Appetite and weight fluctuations
  • Feeling agitated frequently
  • Feeling tired or sluggish
  • Problems with concentration

Sometimes, people can even have frequent thoughts of death or suicide as well. If the above symptoms all occur during a certain time of the year, SAD is likely. However, the pattern must be established before an actual diagnosis can be made.

Types of Seasonal Affective Disorder

There are actually two types of seasonal affective disorder. However, one type is much more common than the other.

The two types of seasonal affective disorder are:

Fall and Winter SAD

This type of seasonal affective disorder occurs during the colder months of the year. It is an actual depression that overtakes the mind and body. Both emotional and physical symptoms of major depression are experienced. These symptoms don't lift until the warmer weather arrives in the spring.

Spring and Summer SAD

Less commonly, there are those who will experience SAD during the warmer months of the year. These individuals may experience many of the same symptoms, including depression, sleep disturbances and anxiety.

Regardless of what type of seasonal affective disorder you think you may have, it's important to recognize it. Only then will you be able to understand the importance of getting the right kind of help.

What are the Signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder?

The most important indicator of SAD is having symptoms of depression that come and go. This usually happens on a very predictable schedule. Some of the more common signs of fall and winter seasonal affective disorder include:

  • Having difficulty with concentration
  • Experiencing brain fog
  • Sleeping a lot, but still feeling very tired
  • Significant amount of weight gain
  • Increase in appetite
  • Intense cravings for carbohydrates, such as bread and pasta
  • Losing interest in activities
  • Feeling as though you'd rather be isolated from others
  • Feelings of intense sadness
  • Frequent mood swings
  • Anxiety thoughts or feelings

Some of the common signs of spring and summer SAD include:

  • Having a very poor appetite
  • Experiencing weight loss
  • Having trouble sleeping at night
  • Becoming easily agitated
  • Bouts of violent behavior
  • Feeling restless
  • Experiencing anxiety

Remember, in order for SAD to be diagnosed, these symptoms must be present for two or more years. If you've experienced them for quite some time, it's time to talk with a professional.

Are You Suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder?

The question that's probably on your mind is, do I have seasonal affective disorder? If you do, that could answer a lot of questions for you. It can sometimes be helpful to take a short quiz that can give you some answers.

Below, you'll find several questions regarding what you may be going through. Answer them as honestly as you can.

  • Do you feel overcome by depression during certain times of the year?
  • Are you often plagued with sad thoughts?
  • Do you feel more moody during some parts of the year than in others?
  • Do you find it hard to get out of bed in the morning in the cold months or in the warmer months?
  • If there isn't any bright sunlight, do you feel like you don't have any energy?
  • Does cold weather tend to make you sleepy during the day?
  • Is it hard for you to stay asleep at night during the winter months?
  • On cloudy days, do you lose interest in things you normally enjoy?
  • During the winter months or the summer months, do you feel hopeless?
  • Is it harder for you to concentrate during certain times of the year than others?
  • Do you find that you crave certain foods more in the winter than in the summer?
  • On colder days, do you feel more irritable?

If you answered several of these questions with a yes, then you may have seasonal affective disorder. You may have always thought that this was just the way you are. You may have even assumed that most people feel the same way you do. SAD is something that is not normal, and there's no reason for you to continue to feel this way.

Professional Treatment Options for SAD

If you're suffering from seasonal affective disorder, getting treatment is important. There are a number of different ways that this condition can be treated professionally.

The first course of action doctors will take is to rule out any other medical causes for your symptoms. They will perform blood tests to check for any abnormalities. Hypothyroidism is one medical condition that can cause similar symptoms. A complete mental health assessment will also be done.

Once seasonal affective disorder has been confirmed, the right treatment will be offered. Types of treatment commonly use for SAD include:

Light Therapy

Light therapy has been proven to be effective for many people with fall and winter SAD. Experts believe that it helps to reset the body's internal clock. There are two different types of light therapy that are commonly used.

  1. Bright light treatment: For this, a light box is placed on a table. The person sits in front of it during normal activities.
  2. Dawn simulation: This type of light therapy involves a dim light turning on early in the morning. Eventually, the light gets brighter, like a sunrise.

Light therapy is usually prescribed for up to two hours a day. This will vary from person to person. People who receive light therapy usually start to feel better after about a week. However, staying consistent with the treatment is very important. Otherwise, symptoms may return.


Certain types of counseling have been found to be effective at helping with seasonal affective disorder as well. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy are among the most common. These allow the individual to learn more about SAD. They learn how to manage their symptoms effectively. Counseling can even help them prevent SAD in the future.

Recommending Exercise

Any type of exercise can help to raise serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain. It's helpful to get outside because sunlight can create an added bonus for those with SAD. Staying active during the day can help to decrease the symptoms of depression. Walking, riding a bike or even swimming have all been shown to help.

Antidepressant Medications

Antidepressants are commonly prescribed to people with seasonal affective disorder. These medications help to counteract the symptoms of depression that accompany it.

Medication Options to Help with Seasonal Affective Disorder Symptoms

There are several different antidepressants doctors recommend for patients with seasonal affective disorder. They may be used on their own, or in combination with light therapy.

Some of the most commonly prescribed medications for SAD include:

  • Paxil
  • Zoloft
  • Wellbutrin
  • Effexor
  • Prozac

Not every type of medication is going to work well for everyone. Also, someone who has fall/winter seasonal affective disorder may respond differently than someone with spring/summer SAD. It can take some time before antidepressant medications start to work. They need to build up in the body first. However, it's not uncommon for doctors to try different medications. Eventually, they find the right one for each patient.

Treating seasonal affective disorder can be a challenge. However, so many people have gotten relief from their symptoms because they received the right treatment.

What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?

There are a number of different things that can lead to the onset of seasonal affective disorder. There are also some risk factors that many play a role in it as well.

Circadian Rhythm

In the fall and winter, there is less sunlight. This can lead to seasonal affective disorder. The decrease in sunlight can disrupt the body's internal clock. This can easily lead to depressive feelings and emotions.

Serotonin Levels

As the amount of sunlight is reduced, this can cause a drop in serotonin levels. Serotonin affects mood, and this can trigger depression and SAD.

Melatonin Levels

The body maintains a certain balance of melatonin. However, as the colder months set in, these levels can be disrupted. This can affect mood and sleep patterns, which can lead to seasonal affective disorder.

Family History

Someone with a family history of seasonal affective disorder is much more likely to develop the condition. It's also more likely in those with family histories of depressive disorders.

Having a Current Diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder or Depression

For those who already have one of these mental health diagnoses, they are more at risk for developing SAD.

The Connection Between Addiction and SAD

When addiction and seasonal affective disorder occur at the same time, these are known as co-occurring disorders. For those who have SAD, they often feel as though they need a way to feel better. If they aren't being treated professionally, self-medicating with a substance is an option in their minds.

SAD can affect serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain. Because of this, people will tend to use substances to increase these levels. This counteracts their symptoms effectively, for a short time. Some drugs of choice might include stimulant prescription drugs, alcohol, heroin or even cocaine.

For individuals with seasonal affective disorder, they often don't know any other way to feel better. They're struggling with their symptoms. They may know that they're harming themselves in the long run, but it seems a small price to pay.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder and Addiction

Fortunately, there is an answer that can help. Dual diagnosis treatment, or integrative addiction treatment provides support for patients with co-occurring disorders.

This type of addiction treatment was relatively unheard of until the 1990s. Before that time, addiction and mental health conditions were always treated separately. Patients would go through the drug or alcohol detox process first. The goal of this was to help them with the physical part of their addictions. Once that was completed, they would receive help for their mental health issues.

This method of treatment was not found to be helpful for most people. The result for many of them was that they would go right back to using. Relapses were becoming far too common. A better way to treat these individuals was desperately needed.

As a result, dual diagnosis treatment was created. This method allowed patients to get help for both conditions at the same time. It focused on addressing the reasons behind the addiction, and not just the addiction itself. This resulted in better long-term outcomes, and less instances of relapse.

If you have SAD and an addiction, if your mental health condition isn't treated, you are unlikely to recover long-term. Integrative addiction treatment can provide you with the tools you need to finally overcome your addiction.

Are You Suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder and Addiction? Get Help

It's possible that you have spent much of your adult life suffering from SAD. You never really understood the symptoms you were experiencing. You only knew that you felt down during the winter months. However, after looking at the above symptoms, it's beginning to make more sense to you.

Now, you're left with some options to consider. You've learned how important it is to avoid self-medicating your condition with drugs and alcohol. Yet, you feel stuck in this terrible addiction cycle that seems impossible to escape. The right drug and alcohol treatment can help you. Choosing a facility that offers dual diagnosis treatment can provide you with the support you need.

At Northpoint Washington, we offer dual diagnosis treatment that will meet your needs. We look at each of our patients as individuals, and they all receive personalized treatment. Our goal is to get to know you so that we learn the right way to help you recover. Unless both of your co-occurring disorders are treated at the same time, your recovery is very unlikely. Our success rates are so high because we understand this concept.

Isn't it time you thought about getting treated for seasonal affective disorder and addiction? We would love to talk with you about your options. Please contact us today.