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Can SAD Impact Addiction Recovery?

woman experiencing SAD while recovering from addiction

What Is SAD?

As the days grow shorter and the weather gets colder, many people start to feel down. While for some, this is just a case of the winter blues, for others, it may be something more serious: seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

SAD is a type of depression that corresponds to the changes in season—typically beginning and ending around the same time every year and is most connected to the fall and winter months. According to Mental Health America, SAD effects about five percent of the U.S. population, with an onset of symptoms most likely to occur between 20 – 30 years of age. Though not fully understood, SAD is thought to be caused by a combination of factors, including a reduced level of sunlight, an increase in the production of Melatonin, and changes in brain chemistry.

How Might a SAD Diagnosis Impact Recovery?

While many might try to minimize a SAD diagnosis, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (also known as the DSM-5) lists SAD not as a separate disorder, but rather a type of major depressive disorder with seasonal patterns. Which means that in order to be diagnosed, an individual must meet the criteria for major depressive disorder.

Symptoms of SAD may include a decrease in energy, sleep problems, mood swings, social withdrawal, feelings of hopelessness or guilt, changes in behavior or performance, changes in appetite—such as intense cravings for carbohydrates, or self-harm thoughts or behaviors.

Depression is a serious mental illness that can have a profound impact on every aspect of your life. In fact, depression and bipolar disorders are the most common psychiatric disorders among patients with addiction problems. A 2005 study lists three potential reasons for this co-occurrence:

  1. The negative effects of a mood disorder may motivate an individual to self-medicate with substances like drugs or alcohol.
  2. An increase in brain sensitivity caused by continuous, untreated exposure—leading to an increase in the frequency and severity of mood disorder symptoms or substance use.
  3. Underlying genetic risk factors that might make an individual more vulnerable to mood disorders and/or substance use disorders.

With depression and addiction being so closely linked, it is no wonder that having untreated, unmanaged, or inappropriately managed symptoms can have a negative impact on recovery and potentially lead to relapse. Examples might include:

  • Self-isolation and avoiding therapy sessions or recovery meetings
  • Major mood swings impacting recently learned coping mechanisms
  • Self-harm ideation leading to substance abuse

6 Ways to Manage SAD Symptoms

Because SAD is a form of depression, the best way to understand the nature of your disorder is to be diagnosed and treated by a qualified medical professional. While there is no cure for SAD, it can be managed through a variety of lifestyle adjustments, medication management, or interventions. Management tactics can include:

  1. Utilizing light therapy lamps
  2. Exercise
  3. Engaging in art therapy
  4. Yoga, meditation, and other introspective activities
  5. Individual counseling and therapy
  6. Group therapy

Being proactive about your symptoms as well as spotting signs of a worsening condition are two ways to ensure you can stay on track with your recovery journey.

To learn more about addiction recovery in Georgia, reach out to our knowledgeable and compassionate team at The Carter Treatment Center. We are available via phone at (678) 737-4430 or through our online contact form.