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Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder in Recovery

Recovery is never an easy process. Maintaining abstinence from alcohol and drugs takes strength, resilience, and commitment. Everyone has difficult days and faces challenging times.

If you suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), recovery can seem even more challenging. Staying sober when you feel depressed, anxious, or tired is hard and requires extra strength and support.

Luckily, support is out there. There are various techniques you can use to reduce the symptoms of SAD and improve your mental health all year round. You can also utilize recovery resources like fellowship groups and focus on self-care practices to ensure you have the resilience to make it through.

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

SAD is a type of depression that causes significant changes in mood and behavior as seasons alter. For most people, symptoms begin in the autumn or early winter as the days grow shorter and we are exposed to less sunlight. Typically, symptoms alleviate in the spring, often without treatment.

Though many people experience SAD in the autumn and winter, a smaller number of people experience SAD during the summer months, recovering in the autumn and winter.

The symptoms of SAD include general symptoms of depression. People may lose interest in activities they enjoy, feel sad and hopeless, and have suicidal thoughts. There is also a range of season-specific symptoms. Winter depression symptoms, for example, may include sleeping for a prolonged time, weight gain, and social isolation. Meanwhile, summer depression symptoms may manifest as insomnia and anxiety.

Scientists do not have a clear idea of the exact mechanisms behind SAD. However, research suggests that the levels of hormones such as melatonin and serotonin may be at play.

As sunlight helps regulate the release of these hormones, it impacts vital body functions like mood, behavior, and sleep. In people with SAD, their regulation systems may work less well than normal, meaning that changes in sunlight can dramatically affect the levels of hormones in their body.

What Is the Link Between Seasonal Affective Disorder and Substance Abuse?

Up to 50% of people with a substance use disorder (SUD) also suffer from a co-occurring disorder like anxiety, depression, or SAD.

As people may turn to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism for negative thoughts and emotions or escape from reality, these conditions can be a driving factor behind substance abuse. Unfortunately, underlying disorders can also complicate the treatment process, increasing resistance to talking therapies and making relapse more likely.

Case studies have recognized examples of parallel SAD and SUD symptoms. Here, individuals fall into drug and alcohol abuse at the start of each winter before recovering on their own during the summer months.

What Are Some Treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder?

If you live with SAD, feeling worried as the winter or summer months approach is normal. However, there are effective treatments that help reduce seasonal symptoms of depression so you can maintain good mental health throughout the year. Treating SAD alongside your addiction as part of a dual diagnosis program helps you overcome the causes of addictive behavior and maintain long-term abstinence.

SAD treatments include:

  • Light therapy – During light therapy, you use artificial lamps to mimic the effects of sunlight on your body. This can help your body produce normal levels of serotonin and melatonin, improving your mood and sleep.
  • Spending time outside – Going outside in the sunshine as much as you can and keeping blinds and curtains open helps increase your exposure to sunlight in the winter months.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy – Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a kind of talking therapy where you identify negative thought and behavioral patterns and develop coping mechanisms to deal with them in healthy ways. It helps you make meaningful changes to your mood in real-time. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is an effective treatment for both SAD and SUD.

How Can I Build Resilience in Recovery?

As well as treating your SAD, you can focus on building strength and resilience in your recovery journey so that you can overcome challenging times. Some ways to build resilience include:

  • Attend recovery meetings – Recovery meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) groups are a great way to develop strong support networks that help you remain committed to sobriety. Attending meetings with others in recovery can offer inspiration for your recovery journey and a chance to talk with others who share and understand your experience.
  • Meet with a sponsor – Meeting regularly with a sponsor can help keep you on track during early recovery. Sponsors are usually people who have been in recovery for more than six months and have recent, first-hand knowledge of your experience. They can offer compassionate advice and encouragement to help you stay away from drugs and alcohol.
  • Practice good self-care – Caring for yourself enables you to maintain a balanced mood, energy, and good overall well-being. Self-care practices may include yoga, meditation, exercise, and eating a balanced diet. Maintaining a balanced mood and energy levels helps you avoid negative thought patterns and emotions, which could otherwise trigger substance abuse.

Believe in Yourself

Sometimes, the road to recovery can seem long and complicated. However, millions of people across the United States successfully maintain abstinence from drugs and alcohol, even those who struggle with co-occurring disorders.

If you feel like you are struggling, reach out to friends, family, support networks, sponsors, or treatment facilities to give yourself the extra boost you need to stay on track.

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