(SAD) is a form of depression that strikes patients during specific seasons – usually winter when temperatures are cold, the sun is shining less often, and patients are often confined to the indoors. Though depressive symptoms associated with SAD may lift as the days lengthen, very often they can worsen and become debilitating without treatment. Patients often struggle with:
- Maintaining positive relationships with others
- Doing well at work (e.g., coming in, being on time, and keeping up with responsibilities, etc.)
- Caring for oneself (e.g., taking care of hygiene, eating well, sleeping well, getting regular medical and dental checkups, etc.)
- Managing household responsibilities (e.g., budgeting, keeping up with maintenance, paying bills, grocery shopping, etc.)
Unfortunately, many patients struggling with depression due to seasonal affective disorder do not seek help. Rather, they attempt to self-medicate the issue with drinking and drug use.
The effect can be the development of a substance use disorder, including addiction, that does not go away with the season’s change. If symptoms of seasonal affective disorder and/or a co-occurring substance use disorder become disruptive, it’s time to seek treatment. Contact us at the phone number listed above for assistance in finding the right program for you.
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
Signs of Seasonal affective disorder can include any combination of the following:
- Changes in weight, usually weight gain
- Changes in sleep, usually an increase in time spent sleeping
- Lack of ability to concentrate and focus
- Lack of interest in hobbies, former interests, work, home, etc.
- Isolation from friends and family
- Irritability and agitation
The Need for Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder
Without treatment, seasonal affective disorder can lead to an even more serious condition. Some possibilities include bipolar disorder, moderate to severe depression, and/or thoughts of suicide or suicidal behaviors.
Seasonal Affective Disorder Stats and Facts
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, the following is true about seasonal affective disorder:
- SAD occurs more often in women than men.
- An estimated four to six percent of the American population struggles with SAD.
- Between 10 and 20 percent of the general public are believed to suffer from a mild form of SAD.
- Some SAD symptoms can manifest during adolescence; however, few experience SAD symptoms until after the age of 20.
- Risk of development of SAD decreases with age; seniors are less likely to develop the disorder.
- Symptoms are cyclical and tend to come back annually.
Summer-Onset Seasonal Affective Disorder
About 10 percent of SAD patients experience summer-onset seasonal affective disorder, a form of SAD that begins in summer rather than winter. Some symptoms are slightly different than those who suffer from the issue during the winter months and can include:
- Decreased appetite and weight loss
- Inability to sleep
- Increased anxiety
- Irritability and agitation
Light Therapy for the Treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder
Because seasonal affective disorder is most often diagnosed in regions where there is little sunlight for long periods of time, light therapy may be an effective part of treatment and recovery for patients, according to numerous studies, including a study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology: Official Publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology. This form of treatment utilizes a special kind of lamp that offers bright light and mimics the positive effects of sunlight. It is often most effective when started prior to the onset of symptoms, so if patients experience these issues cyclically each year, it can be helpful to get started early. Patients are advised to:
- See an eye doctor for a checkup prior to beginning treatment.
- Use the light box or lamp in the morning.
- Look in the direction of the light but not directly at the light source.
- Use the light box or lamp for 30 minutes a day.
- Follow all directions given on how to use the light source and ask questions if anything is unclear.
- Report any unwanted side effects including eye strain, headache and/or manic episodes (a rare side effect).
- Report the use of any medications that may make them sensitive to light (e.g., medications for the treatment of psoriasis, antipsychotic medications and/or antibiotics).
In most cases, SAD symptoms should decrease within a month if light therapy is going to be helpful. NOTE: Tanning beds are not light therapy and should not be used to treat SAD.
Other Forms of Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder
Unfortunately, light therapy is estimated to be effective in only 50 percent of patients who utilize this option. The good news is that there are a number of different treatment options that can be helpful in aiding patients in mitigating or eradicating symptoms.
Medication can be effective, especially antidepressants, in helping patients to overcome their symptoms. These may not be necessary for the long term if light therapy is effective or behavioral therapy is successful. Behavioral therapy is the other form of recommended treatment. It is designed to help patients manage their symptoms through making lifestyle changes and addressing issues of perception so they can improve their life experience and their enjoyment of the positive things in life.
Tips for Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder
There are a number of lifestyle changes that can augment professional treatment and help patients to more quickly and effectively overcome their symptoms. These include:
- Going to sleep and waking at the same time each day
- Getting enough sleep each night
- Eating a healthy balance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and protein, while limiting the intake of salt, sugar and saturated fats
- Exercising regularly
- Making an effort to take part in activities that are fun and enjoyable
- Following a medication and/or vitamin regimen as per the specifications of the prescribing physician
- Addressing side effects or ongoing issues with a medical professional
- Paying attention to worsening signs of depression and reporting them immediately
- Having a plan to address depression symptoms if they begin to increase
- Avoiding drugs and alcohol
- Being open and honest with therapists and other caregivers about feelings, obstacles to recovery, and goals for treatment
When Substance Abuse Is an Issue
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that drug and alcohol abuse is a common problem among patients who are diagnosed with depressive disorders like seasonal affective disorder. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) supports that notion through their report, which found that more than 20 percent of patients diagnosed with any mood disorder are also living with a substance abuse problem. Additionally, NIDA found that more than 20 percent of those diagnosed with a depression disorder abused drugs and alcohol. Because it is so common for patients to struggle with both a form of depression like SAD and substance abuse, a great deal of research has been done to identify the most effective forms of treatment in these cases. At one time, it was considered appropriate to first treat the drug or alcohol addiction and then turn the focus of treatment toward dealing with the depression disorder. However, it has become clear through decades of research that treatment is far more effective and long-lasting for Dual Diagnosis patients when they undergo intensive treatment intervention for both disorders simultaneously.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment: SAD and Addiction
A truly effective treatment program does more than just provide a basic treatment plan that is not customized for each patient. Rather, effective Dual Diagnosis treatment will provide directed therapeutic intervention designed to specifically address the unique issues facing each patient as they attempt to manage symptoms caused by SAD and addiction. For this reason, an extensive evaluation process should jumpstart the recovery process for all who enter Dual Diagnosis rehab. After that, their treatment plan should include any combination of the following:
- Detox. This addresses medical issues related to substance abuse. It can be necessary especially in the case of opiate addiction (e.g., dependence upon heroin and/or opiate painkillers), alcoholism, and dependence upon other drugs that cause withdrawal symptoms in addicts.
- Personal therapy. This helps patients to privately address issues they faced prior to the development of addiction and/or SAD as well as issues that arise during treatment.
- Group therapy. Treatment for both depression disorders like SAD and substance abuse benefit from the support of others through directed group therapy sessions.
- Augmentative treatments. Alternative therapies, holistic treatments, and other directed therapies that address the non-disorder-related issues plaguing a patient’s ability to heal could help them during and after rehab. Some options include life coaching, job skills training and parenting classes.
- Ongoing support. Patients need continued support after they leave rehab, and a professional Dual Diagnosis program can provide continuing care for patients, offering them the accountability and assistance they need to remain successful in recovery after returning home.
Don’t Wait: Call Now
If your loved one is living with seasonal affective disorder and/or substance abuse or addiction, don’t wait to help them get the treatment services that will be able to assist them in the healing process. Call the phone number listed above today and have them matched to the best possible program for their needs. We’re standing by to assist you.
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David W. Newton is a board certified pharmacist and also has been a board member for boards of examiners for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy since 1983. His areas of expertise are primarily pharmaceuticals as well as cannabinoids. You can read an article about his expertise in CBD on the National Library of Medicine.