People who use drugs and alcohol may be suffering from a form of winter depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (also known as SAD). This form of depression affects millions of people throughout the three seasons of the year when the sun is weaker. This is generally from late September to early May. Those who suffer from SAD might be susceptible to using alcohol and drugs during the day to heighten one’s moods. Those who are most susceptible to suffering from SAD include:
- People who are living in areas with little sunlight in the winter months and the days are very short with longer, darker nights. Northern states, such as upstate New York and Massachusetts, for example, could have higher risk for SAD.
- People between the ages of 15 and 55 are at the highest risk. The risk of getting SAD for the first time goes down as you age. While SAD may begin at any time, the main age of first onset is 18-30.
- People who have a close relative with SAD. Genetics play a role so if you have a relative who is suffering from SAD, you need to be mindful of yourself. You are at risk as well.
What Causes SAD?
While it is not known for sure, most experts believe the lack of sunlight upsets our sleep-wake cycles and other circadian rhythms. This lack of sunlight may also cause problems with a brain chemical called serotonin that affects our mood. Finally, experts believe less sunlight causes a biochemical imbalance in the hypothalamus. It occurs throughout the northern and southern hemispheres, but is rare in those living within 30 degrees of the Equator, where daylight hours are long, constant and extremely bright.
What Are The Symptoms of SAD?
- Losing interest in the things you normally enjoy
- Feeling blue, sad, moody or having anxiety
- Craving carbohydrates like pasta and bread; desire to eat more, causing weight gain
- Feeling drowsy during the daytime and sleeping more
- Gravitating towards drug and alcohol use
- Being irritable; inability to tolerate stress
- Decreased interest in being social with others
- Decreased interest in sexual activity
What Is the Treatment for SAD?
One of the things that works wonders for SAD clients is the use of light boxes and other forms of light therapy. Light therapy is easy to use and works well for most people. Relief is often felt within one week of treatment. Two forms of light therapy that are very helpful include:
- Bright light treatment with a light box. You sit in front of a light box for a half an hour or longer each morning. The light is simulated sunlight.
- Dawn simulation. For this treatment, a dim light goes on in the morning while you sleep and like a sunrise, gets brighter over time.
There are other forms of depression rehab as well for those that may not respond to light treatment. These include:
- Antidepressants. These can help balance the chemicals our brains produce, such as serotonin, to reduce the feelings of depression.
- Therapy. Some types of counseling can aid clients in managing their own symptoms.
- Exercise. Regular exercise like walking, swimming, biking or any other form of working out can release your endorphins and stimulate serotonin, both of which make us feel better, healthier and happier.
- Spending time in an addiction treatment center. If you are abusing drugs and alcohol to self-medicate your own symptoms, you might want to check into a place like Cornerstone Recovery Center in sunny South Florida. Just being in the tropical beach atmosphere of Fort Lauderdale may help clients who are suffering the winters in New York, New Jersey and throughout the northeast.
While there is no official treatment group for SAD, you can visit larger national organizations online that deal with many forms of depression like NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) or NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health). A third online organization is called SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). All of these organizations can help you locate resources in your area.
If however, you live in a place that is dark and wintry, you might want to contact Cornerstone Recovery center online. You can also call 888.711.0354 to speak with an admissions counselor. Treatment under the tropical sun… Sounds like a perfect match to tackle SAD.