How Seasonal Affective Disorder Encourages Drug Abuse

Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as S.A.D., is a type of depression that can instigate drug abuse or worsen addiction. The people who are diagnosed with S.A.D. are experiencing symptoms of depression during the fall and winter months when the sun sets earlier and rises, later limiting the number of daylight hours.

Although S.A.D. affects most people during the cold weather months, there are some people who exhibit symptoms during the spring and summer months. Experiencing this type of depression is dangerous as it can cause or worsen addiction if you’re already facing this problem.

How Seasonal Affective Disorder Encourages Drug Abuse

How to Diagnose Seasonal Affective Disorder

According to the National Institute of Mental health (NIH), the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder must also include symptoms of major depressive disorder and be experienced for over a year. There are also biochemical reasons that people are diagnosed with S.A.D.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression displaying a recurring seasonal pattern. To be diagnosed with SAD, people must meet full criteria for major depression coinciding with specific seasons (appearing in the winter or summer months) for at least two years. Seasonal depressions must be much more frequent than any non-seasonal depressions. People with SAD may have trouble regulating one of the key neurotransmitters involved in mood, serotonin. People with SAD may overproduce the hormone melatonin… People with SAD also may produce less Vitamin D.” (NIH)

For people who use drugs and alcohol, it is likely that a S.A.D. diagnosis may exacerbate their drug use and increase the potential for addiction. The symptoms of major depressive disorder and S.A.D. resemble the reasons that many addicts or alcoholics state why they cannot stop drinking or taking drugs. They include :

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having problems with sleep
  • Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
  • Having low energy
  • Hypersomnia or Insomnia
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Social withdrawal
  • Anxiety

Although the reasons why people become addicted to drugs and alcohol are more numerous than the list of symptoms people who have S.A.D. experience, there is a connection. People who have S.A.D. also suffer from a disruption in their Circadian Rhythms. Circadian rhythms are the mental, physical, and behavioral changes that a person’s body completes every day that follow a daily cycle.

Circadian rhythms respond to the various levels of light and darkness created by a person’s environment. When the fall and winter months occur, many people’s circadian rhythms are temporarily disrupted. When the time changes every year in the fall and spring it takes time to adjust. For people who do not eventually adjust to the time changes, they may be experiencing S.A.D.

Circadian Rhythms and Addiction

Additionally, there is research that has indicated that addicts may be more inclined to having abnormal circadian rhythms. The National Center for Biotechnology Information provides insight into the connection of Circadian rhythms, and addiction, as it relates to dopamine and the reward centers of the brain.

A growing body of literature connects circadian rhythms and the genes that control the molecular clock to the development and progression of addictive disorders. Clinical studies have found that individuals with addictive disorders have highly disrupted rhythms, and it is likely that genetic and environmental disruptions to the normal sleep/wake cycle increase the vulnerability for addiction. The synthesis of dopamine is controlled by a rate-limiting enzyme. and these regulatory processes, which are all controlled by circadian clock genes, augment baseline dopamine signaling. These targets play significant roles in modulating reward and drug-seeking behavior.” (NCBI)

The bottom line is that for people who struggle more than normal in the fall and winter months because they are experiencing symptoms of depression, they may indeed be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder. For addicts and alcoholics, there is an even greater potential to either develop S.A.D. or worsen a drug or drinking problem. The science suggests that the tendency for people with substance abuse being predisposed to abnormal circadian rhythms corresponds and may also increase the chances of having a S.A.D. diagnosis.

The treatment that is available for people who are diagnosed with S.A.D. includes psychotherapy such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, light therapy, anti-depressant medications, as well as an increase in social commitments and regular outside activity. If you’re addicted to drugs or alcohol and feel like S.A.D. is an underlying factor that is fueling your substance abuse, please contact us today for confidential help.