What Is SAD?
SAD is a fitting acronym for Seasonal Affective Disorder, a seasonal depression that coincides with the shortened days, colder temperatures and the lack of sunshine from November to February.
But SAD is more than just a simple case of the winter blues—it changes your brain chemistry, your mood, your appetite, and importantly for addicts, it can reduce your ability to control impulses.
What Does SAD Feel Like?
The most common side effects of SAD are feelings of hopelessness, joylessness, a loss of energy, and difficulty concentrating. People with SAD can also experience major changes to their sleep patterns (sleeping longer, difficulty getting out of bed in the morning), eating habits (weight gain, cravings for carbohydrates), and social preferences (feeling withdrawn).
These symptoms are common for a variety of depressive and anxiety disorders and other medical issues, leading to frequent misdiagnoses or no diagnosis at all. For instance, anyone who has gone through substance withdrawal knows these symptoms well. Unfortunately, that means many recovering addicts confuse the warning signs of SAD for symptoms of withdrawal and never seek the proper psychiatric or therapeutic treatments they need.
Without accurately recognizing SAD—and understanding the role it plays in the recovery process—managing addiction can be a confusing and disheartening experience.
SAD and Addiction
Addicts with undiagnosed SAD sometimes attempt to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. Like other mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder, SAD often lies at the root of behaviors that trigger addiction and relapse, and any plan for recovery should include the treatment of these underlying causes.
Newly recovered addicts sometimes face additional challenges caused by SAD. When the onset of SAD coincides with your newfound sobriety, it’s easy to unconsciously associate sobriety with the unpleasant symptoms of SAD. Couple this with decreased concentration and weakened impulse control, you have a recipe for relapse.
What You Can Do to Combat SAD
SAD is a diagnosis—not a sentence. For some, SAD is a one-time occurrence. For others, it is a recurring condition that must be treated every year. But no matter how frequent or severe your SAD is, you have the best chances of combatting its effects when you seek treatment at the first sign of trouble.
- Seek the proper clinical treatment. Whether it’s cognitive behavioral therapy, medication or vitamin supplements, your doctor or therapist can help you choose a plan that works for you.
- Light therapy. This usually involves a special machine that emits a certain amount of light at different times of the day. When used regularly, especially in the morning, light therapy can help relieve the symptoms of SAD in as little as two days. (Note that for some, it may take a few weeks to notice a difference.)
- Spend more time outside. Avoid dark spaces and spend your time in places with an abundance of natural light.
- Get into a morning routine and stick to it. Avoid hitting the snooze button and get out of bed once you wake up. Make sure your routine includes getting plenty of light—reading the news in front of a sunny window or taking a brisk jog will help you accomplish this.
- Acknowledge your mood. Talk to others in support groups or online forums about your experience and listen to theirs. This can help you feel less withdrawn and get you to express yourself. If you’re not feeling particularly social, be sure to write your feelings down in a journal, rather than keeping them bottled up.
Are you feeling the effects of SAD and struggling with addiction? Reach out to your supports at Prelude for help!