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Getting Dark Earlier – Exploring Seasonal Affective Disorder and Addiction

by | Jan 20, 2022 | All Posts, Recovery | 0 comments

If you experience noticeable mood drops and lethargy during the winter months, you might have seasonal affective disorder (SAD). A common condition, it is important to seek help and treatment, especially if you are at risk of addiction or are in addiction recovery.

As winter approaches and the days become shorter and the evenings longer, we explore SAD and addiction in this blog.

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

SAD is a depressive disorder that occurs during the winter season and sometimes in early summer. This is because people with seasonal affective disorder have difficulty regulating the neurotransmitter serotonin, a neurotransmitter believed to be responsible for balancing mood.”

People with SAD may also have difficulty with the overproduction of melatonin, the hormone responsible for the brain’s response to darkness. Therefore, people that experience SAD will encounter tiredness and lethargy due to low serotonin levels and high melatonin levels. This creates a chemical imbalance that sends our bodies haywire.

Signs of SAD and depression are similar. However, SAD ends after early spring and starts up again at the end of autumn when the days begin to get darker earlier again. When SAD strikes, it is not uncommon for an individual to feel fatigued, have difficulty getting out of bed, and struggle to perform their day-to-day activities. They may experience feelings of hopelessness.

Typical treatments for SAD are anti-depressant medication, counseling, and vitamin D supplements.

How Does Seasonal Affective Disorder Impact Addiction?

Many people with addiction begin misusing substances to self-medicate from undiagnosed and untreated mental health disorders. However, they may or may not realize this. For this very reason, raising awareness of SAD is vital. By identifying this particular disorder and recognizing whether it impairs your life, you can get the help you deserve. You can also avoid developing a substance use disorder (SUD) or relapsing if you are in addiction recovery.

People become addicted to substances because their brain craves the artificial hit that the substance provides, which makes them feel good. Although the brain naturally produces feel-good chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine, when we become dependent on substances, our body adjusts and becomes dependent on this new level, making us feel lower when we don’t have them in our bloodstream.

As we know, people with SAD have trouble regulating their serotonin levels. This feel-good chemical deficiency is what causes signs of depression. This could unknowingly cause a person to find artificial serotonin boosts through substances. Before you know it, the brain craves this artificial hit. Essentially, this is how SAD can impact addiction.

SAD could also cause a relapse in those recovering from addiction. A person in addiction recovery who is suffering from SAD will find themselves in a low mood. As a result, they may find themselves wanting to turn to substances again to achieve an artificial high. In recovery, a low mood puts you at risk of entering the first stage of relapse. For this very reason, good mental health is essential to avoid both addiction and relapse.

How To Take Action

If you find yourself struggling with low moods or feeling fatigued and suspect SAD is impairing your life, it is in your best interest to seek help. This could include speaking to your doctor to determine whether you would benefit from treatment.

If you are in recovery and find yourself at risk of relapsing, it is also beneficial to talk to someone. We also recommend turning to your support system for help and guidance. In addition, counseling could help you manage your mood and make changes to your daily life to boost your mental health.

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