Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) And Addiction

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D on April 19, 2021

Seasonal affective disorder is a depressive disorder in which individuals experience symptoms of major depressive disorder during specific times of year. It is often found co-occurring with other mental health disorders and substance use disorders.

Dual Diagnosis Seasonal Affective Disorder And Addiction

Seasonal affective disorder is a disorder that can be quite debilitating, despite affecting those who suffer from it for less than half of the year.

The symptoms can be both mental and physical, and individuals with seasonal affective disorder frequently turn to alcohol or other drugs to help them cope.

Because addiction can worsen the effects of seasonal affective disorder and vice versa, it is important to treat them in unison through programs like dual diagnosis treatment.

Find out more about co-occurring addiction and depression

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder is a type of mood disorder that revolves around the changing of the seasons.

Most cases of SAD occur in the late fall and winter months but it can occasionally occur in the spring and early summer.

Those most at risk for seasonal affective disorder include:

  • women
  • people age 20-30
  • people who live far away from the equator
  • people with co-occurring mental health disorders or substance use disorders

Who Is Affected By Seasonal Affective Disorder?

It is believed that around 5% of the general population experiences seasonal affective disorder every year, and most of them are young women.

Those with seasonal affective disorder will experience symptoms for roughly 40% of the year and may feel fine for the remainder.

It is also important to note that many people with SAD do not experience the disorder every year and will even skip multiple years.

Symptoms Of Seasonal Affective Disorder

When a person has seasonal affective disorder, they will only show symptoms during certain times of the year. This can make seasonal affective disorder particularly hard to recognize.

Because seasonal affective disorder is a type of depressive disorder, it generally has the same symptoms as depression, only exhibited during specific seasons.

Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include:

  • loss of interest
  • change in appetite
  • change in weight
  • change in sleep
  • difficulty concentrating
  • feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • feeling lethargic
  • thoughts of self-harm or suicide

It is also important to note that symptoms of seasonal affective disorder vary depending on whether the person is a fall/winter case or a spring/summer case.

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Symptoms unique to fall/winter cases of seasonal affective disorder include:

  • oversleeping
  • overeating
  • weight gain
  • social withdrawal

Symptoms unique to spring/summer cases of seasonal affective disorder include:

  • insomnia
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • restlessness and anxiety

Only about 10% of cases of seasonal affective disorder are spring/summer cases.

Causes Of Co-Occurring Addiction And Seasonal Affective Disorder

It is not uncommon to find seasonal affective disorder co-occurring with other conditions, including a substance use disorder. This is because of a few possible reasons.

Excessive Time Spent Indoors During Winter Months

First, people tend to stay inside more during the winter months, especially if they live somewhere that is cold or dark at this time.

Someone who is prone to addiction may find themselves lonely during this time or without much to do while stuck inside.

Inability To Cope With Seasonal Changes

Someone with seasonal affective disorder may also be unable to cope with seasonal changes in weather, light, and time.

The interruption in their normal routine may be enough to cause anxiety to the point of leaning on substances for comfort.

How Are Addiction And Seasonal Affective Disorder Diagnosed?

Addiction can be difficult to diagnose because it tends to rely first and foremost on the individual who is addicted coming forward and seeking help.

After this important first step, doctors can then run physical exams and perform psychiatric interviews.

Seasonal affective disorder can be difficult to diagnose as well, because the symptoms are often similar to other depressive disorders and also because the symptoms tend to come and go.

To be diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, the following criteria must be met:

  • the patient must experience symptoms of major depression
  • these symptoms must occur during specific seasons for a minimum of two years
  • these symptoms must be more severe during specific seasons than others

A correct diagnosis for seasonal affective disorder is incredibly important, especially when co-occurring with substance abuse, because the types of treatments used can interfere with medications and even trigger panic attacks.

How Are Addiction And Seasonal Affective Disorder Treated?

Addiction treatment will vary depending on the type of substance abuse and the severity of the addiction.

However, it will usually include a combination of therapies, medications, and medical detox if required.

Seasonal affective disorder is treated with a combination of different therapies, the most unique of which to SAD treatment is light therapy.

Treatments for seasonal affective disorder include:

  • light therapy
  • medications
  • psychotherapy
  • vitamin D supplements

Light therapy has been an integral part of seasonal affective disorder treatment for decades.

It focuses on getting patients the light exposure that they lack during the winter months. Vitamin D therapy has similar intentions.

Finding Treatment For Addiction And Seasonal Affective Disorder

Having both seasonal affective disorder and a substance use disorder at the same time can make things extra difficult and especially important for you or your loved one to seek help.

To find a dual diagnosis treatment center near you, please give our helpline a call today.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D on April 19, 2021
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