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Feeling S.A.D? How Seasonal Affective Disorder can Impact Addiction & Recovery

As I was driving to work this morning, I noticed a little sliver of orange peeking through a heavy blanket of thick grey clouds. “Sunrise,” I suppose. Considering it’s been cloudy and gloomy for what seems like weeks – there’s not much rising sun to speak of this time of year.

Even when the sun does manage to find it’s way out, it’s already set by the time I leave the office. Not that I’d want to be outside soaking it up – it’s 30 degrees, after all.

So long, summer tan – not that I had much of one anyway. Goodbye fresh air through open windows. See you next spring, green leaves and flowers. Hello, bare branches, overcast skies, and damp, cold breezes.

It’s not like winter creeps up on us. It’s here every year – sometimes a week or two early, sometimes a week or two late. But it always finds it’s way back. Even if you’re one to claim, “Oh, but I love the seasons,” there’s something not to love about the lack of life in the dead of winter.

As easy as it is to complain – this season is much darker for those that suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), and especially dangerous for people in drug or alcohol addiction recovery. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that drug and alcohol abuse is a common problem among patients who are diagnosed with depressive disorders like S.A.D., reporting that more than 20 percent of patients diagnosed with any mood disorder are also living with a substance abuse problem. Additionally, NIDA found that more than 20 percent of those diagnosed with a depression disorder abused drugs and alcohol.

Sometimes it’s not easy to pinpoint the source of our discomfort.

Imagine having a toothache. The kind of toothache that makes your whole mouth and jaw throb. It doesn’t take long before the anguish of a world-class headache sets in. Left untreated, it’s hard to even recognize the original troublesome tooth, because all the pain has blended into one.

When we have no idea what’s causing the discomfort, it’s easy to treat the incorrect area of pain, often with medicine or aid, we don’t truly need. Even if it makes us feel better temporarily, we’re not actually treating the cause. We’re just treating symptoms.

Depressive disorders, such as S.A.D., often cause acutely uncomfortable feelings such as overwhelming sadness, numbness, isolation, sleep disorders, digestive and food-related disorders, and downright hopelessness. With all of those symptoms compounding, it is especially tempting, if medications are not being prescribed or used properly, for people suffering from S.A.D. and addiction to self-medicate.

Combining self-medication with depression can create something far worse – a drink or two, a line or two of cocaine, anything to temporarily relieve some of the symptoms. Then when the alcohol or drugs leave the body, the depression sinks to new lows. Each time an abused chemical leaves the body, the withdrawal depression becomes increasingly worse. This substance withdrawal depression itself can trigger the use of more drugs or alcohol – as they are the temporary relief for the negative, hopeless feelings.

And so the cycle continues.

If people feel that the joy is lost in their sobriety, then they may begin to miss their addiction. They may start romancing the drink or the drug, looking to fill the space that is missing, and heal the wound that is hurting.

Seasonal Affective Disorders, if left undiagnosed, can create that pain that may get in the way of an individual’s ability to build a new life away from alcohol and drugs. The good news is, that once the problem is identified, and S.A.D. is diagnosed, it is almost alway possible to bring the depression and addiction under control.

How to Deal with Seasonal Affective Disorder when in Recovery

There are several ways for those in recovery to treat S.A.D:

  • If you are in recovery and suspect that you are experiencing the symptoms of S.A.D., speak to your doctor right away. S.A.D. can be a debilitating condition, so the sooner help is sought, the better.
  • Go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day, getting enough sleep at night.
  • Regular exercise is beneficial for all types of depression, including S.A.D. A healthy lifestyle fuels a continued healthy lifestyle. Also, eating a healthy balance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and proteins – while limiting the intake of salt, sugar, and saturated fats.  If you are in recovery, continue to embrace the medical benefits of a sober body.
  • Some suggest that mediation can help manage the symptoms of S.A.D. – try yoga or Tai Chi.
  • Brighten up your room or workspace as much as possible, preferably with plenty of natural light. Sitting in a dark room all day can exacerbate the symptoms of S.A.D.
  • Pay attention to worsening signs of depression and report them immediately.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol to ease any symptoms. Studies show that alcohol and drugs only worsen the symptoms of depression as the body undergoes withdrawal depression.

If you or a loved one are in recovery and begin to relapse due to Seasonal Affective Disorder, call Addiction Campuses’  hotline immediately at (888) 614-2251. Our treatment specialists can get you the help you need right away, before the cycle begins.

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