Beware of Seasonal Affective Disorder Triggered Relapse This Holiday Season

This Fall & Winter, Beware of Relapse Due to Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorders (SAD) is known to have an effect on drug and alcohol addiction. Characterized as a type of depression, SAD can easily cause a person to begin to slip away and begin thinking about or actively relapsing. It is just as prominent as any dual diagnosis in addiction – mood disorders directly affect addiction and if left untreated, can be a huge contributing factor to relapse.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

SAD is a kind of depression that gets worse seasonally, mainly during the cooler and darker months of fall and winter. Affected people can feel moody, lacking in energy, sad, unmotivated, and hopeless. A few people are affected in the spring and summer, but most are affected in the fall and winter. Symptoms include:

  •      Irritability
  •      Fatigue
  •      Moodiness
  •      A sluggish feeling in the whole body
  •      Sleepiness
  •      Food cravings
  •      Weight gain
  •      Excessive emotional outbursts

On the flip side, people who experience SAD in the summer may experience:

  •      Depression
  •      Insomnia
  •      Weight loss
  •      Anxiety

It is important to visit your doctor if you ever feel down in the dumps for an extended period of time. If you are in recovery, it is especially important because depression can be a huge contributing factor to relapse.

Drinking and Using Due to SAD

There is a marked uptick in relapse and visits to rehab in the fall and winter. Some of this certainly has to do with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Not only are people in the North strongly affected, but also even those living in sunny Florida can be affected. No matter where you live, the days are shorter and there is less time for activity before and after work. Many people are cooped up inside their office for all the daylight hours, barely getting to experience any sort of natural light.

This alone can make a person start to think about using drugs or drinking. Lots of people in recovery move to the warm climate of South Florida simply for the fact that there is more that you can do outside during the winter months. When it’s cold and dark, many addicts just want to crawl up with their drug of choice and not emerge until the days start getting longer. It goes without saying that it’s not a healthy decision.

Addicts are especially vulnerable to SAD because mood shifts can quickly create the urge to use. Another factor that can lead to relapse is boredom. Addicts do not do well with boredom because their minds wander towards their drink or drug of choice. During the cold and dark months, it seems like there is less to do.

What You Can Do to Prevent SAD Affecting Your Sobriety

The last thing you want to happen is that you relapse as a result of the change of seasons. It isn’t worth it – nothing is! There are things you can do to prevent SAD and lessen your chances of a relapse.

  1. Talk to your doctor about depression and SAD. Like with any co-occurring mood disorder, it is essential to get help for it before you attempt to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms and ways to help. He or she may even prescribe a non-habit-forming mood stabilizer to take temporarily until your symptoms get better.
  2. Think about moving to a different climate. South Florida is dubbed the “recovery capital of the world”, and you can bet that the year-round sunny and warm weather has something to do with it! If you’re SAD is affecting you strongly enough to make you think about using, it’s a good idea to think about relocating to somewhere that fits your lifestyle better.
  3. Pick up some new hobbies. Think about activities you can partake in to distract you from using or drinking. Watching TV just isn’t enough because it is a mindless activity that can easily give way to picking up your substance of choice. Some ideas include joining a gym, writing, taking a class, cooking, drawing, redecorating, and hosting sober friends for a get together at your place.
  4. Live a healthy lifestyle. No matter what else you do, leading a healthy lifestyle will help make you strong and capable of facing SAD and saying a strong “no!” to relapse. By exercising, eating healthy, and staying sober,  you will be far less likely to feel sad and think about using.
  5. Practice gratitude. Even though the colder months are dark, there are positive things about this season as well. Learning how to recognize those things and acknowledge them can be a huge benefit towards feeling happier. From time spent with family during the holidays to the crisp, cool air and first snowfall, learn to appreciate the season instead of resisting it.

The fall and winter tend to be quiet and dark months for everyone, even those without SAD. As a person in recovery, it is important to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder before it even begins to show symptoms. Protecting your recovery is, as always, a number one priority. Surround yourself with people and things that will support your sobriety and keep you cheerful so that you can continue to work towards a happy and healthy future.

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