Can Seasonal Affective Disorder Lead to Relapse? 

Seasonal Affective Disorder

As the warm summer season transitions into a colder fall and winter season, many Americans experience a drop in happiness levels. You might start feeling gloomier and more unmotivated as the seasons change. Some people go to the extreme of overacting and isolating themselves indoors.  

Even though often overlooked, these are some of the symptoms of seasonal depression. A striking majority of Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in varying degrees. SAD is typically seasonal depression or mood disorder.  

Studies have shown that SAD has an impact on drug and alcohol addiction. Since SAD is categorized as a form of depression, it can easily trigger a recovering rehabilitation patient to slip away and start contemplating about or actively relapsing.  

Mood disorders are as prominent as a dual diagnosis and can affect your addiction recovery process. If left untreated, SAD can be a significant relapse trigger. 

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)  

You might sometimes experience periods of sadness exceeding the normal degree. More often than not, these mood changes occur towards the end or beginning of new seasons. It starts with feeling low or down as days get shorter during fall and winter. Most people recover as spring starts, with longer and warmer daylight hours.  

Mood changes can affect how you feel, think, and handle your daily activities. Significant or extreme changes in mood and behavior as you transition from one season to the next might mean that you suffer from Seasonal affective disorder. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, SAD is a type of depression. SAD symptoms begin to show in the late fall or early winter. This is termed winter pattern SAD or winter depression.  

 In some cases, some individuals tend to experience depressive episodes during spring and summer. This is known as summer-pattern SAD or summer depression, and it’s less common than winter depression.  

Signs and Symptoms of SAD 

More often than not, SAD symptoms mimic those of major depression. Seasonal Affective Disorder is not considered a standalone disorder but rather a form of depression characterized by seasonal patterns.  

Associated symptoms can last four to five months each year. Due to the close relation to depression, the signs and symptoms of SAD overlap with those of major depression. Nonetheless, there exist slight differences between winter depression and summer depression.  

In addition, a person with SAD will not always exhibit all symptoms – some are more prevalent than others. General signs and symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder include: 

  • Low energy 
  • Having trouble sleeping 
  • Feeling worthless or hopeless, losing interest in hobbies  
  • Feeling depressed nearly every day
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling agitated or sluggish
  • Having frequent thoughts of suicide or death 

Symptoms specific to winter depression include social withdrawal, weight gain, oversleeping, overreacting, and high cravings for carbohydrates. On the other hand, symptoms specific to summer depression include anxiety, poor appetite, weight loss, episodes of violent behavior, agitation & restlessness, and trouble sleeping.  

Alcohol and Substance Misuse and Relapse Due to SAD  

Statistics show a high uptick in rehab visits and relapse cases during fall and winter. Some of these cases have to do with SAD. Therefore, the answer to the question “whether Seasonal Affective Disorder can lead to relapse” is yes. SAD is one of the relapse triggers that affect addiction patients in recovery.  

Most people turn to alcohol and drug misuse to cope with the negative mood changes. The environment created by the short indoor days with little to no natural light can trigger one to think about drinking alcohol or abusing drugs again.  

When cooped up in the office or at home and with all the cold and darkness, some people recovering from addiction want to crawl up into their drug of choice and wait until the days get warmer and longer. That’s not a healthy choice.  

People recovering from alcohol and drug addiction are more vulnerable to SAD. This is true because mood changes can trigger a relapse. Another common relapse trigger during this period is boredom.  

Most people recovering from addiction do not fare well with boredom because their minds wander toward indulging in their drug or drink of choice. During the fall and winter seasons, it often seems like there are fewer activities to participate in.  

How To Deal with SAD to Prevent Relapse  

During recovery, there are numerous approaches to maintaining sobriety. However, a holistic approach is the best option for reducing the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder and associated relapse.  

That means attending recovery support group meetings, maintaining a self-care routine, and enrolling in an after-care sober living program. Taking these measures will help combat SAD and hence prevent relapse.  

You can also implement constructive activities and behaviors in your daily routine to limit SAD’s impact on your physical and mental well-being. The goal is to keep you on track through your recovery journey. Healthy and positive behaviors and habits to take up include, but are not limited to, the following: 

  • Regular work out
  • Spending some time outdoors
  • Opening your blinds to let some natural light fill your room
  • Eating healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, foods rich in omega fats, and complex carbs
  • Installing a SAD lamp in your room
  • Self-care activities such as journaling, yoga, and meditation
  • Joining an after-care program  

Is SAD Treatable? 

Yes. It is easy to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder, especially when it’s diagnosed at its early stages. Although it’s often challenging to diagnose SAD because other mental health conditions can exhibit the same signs and symptoms, a thorough evaluation can help provide an accurate diagnosis.  

Treatment for SAD can entail either medication, light therapy, Vitamin D supplements, or psychotherapy. 

Dual Diagnosis to Treat Alcohol Addiction  

At Crest View Recovery Center, our intensive outpatient alcohol treatment offers a comprehensive dual diagnosis treatment program for those who are looking to recover from a substance addiction. Many times, people who are struggling with substance misuse also suffer from the effects of SAD.  

We are committed to helping you or your loved one reach sobriety through our treatment programs. For more information, contact us today. 

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