English EN Spanish ES

Relapse Triggers: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) & Addiction Recovery

Mood disorders such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) pose risks for individuals who are trying to overcome alcohol abuse or drug addiction. Since mood disorders often cause people to self-medicate in an attempt to rid themselves of unwanted feelings and thoughts, it’s not unusual for recovering addicts to relapse when they suffer a bout of depression or other behavioral disturbance.

Unfortunately, the use of alcohol or drugs to alleviate symptoms can lead to a downward spiral that hinders progress and ruins lives. In order to prevent such a destructive pattern from developing, it’s critical to get a correct diagnosis and then seek alcohol or drug addiction treatment from an inpatient rehab center that has experience handling mood disorders.


Understanding the Problem of Dual Diagnosis

When someone suffers simultaneously from substance abuse problems and a mood disorder, they are given what is called a dual diagnosis. Such co-occurring disorders can Understanding the Problem of Dual Diagnosiscombine to destroy a person’s quality of life. They can also jeopardize any attempt at addiction treatment.

Unfortunately, dual diagnoses are common. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), those who suffer from addiction are twice as likely to have a mood disorder, as well, and vice versa.

No matter what stage of recovery someone happens to be in—whether they are currently enrolled in a detox program at an inpatient program or whether they are receiving ongoing substance abuse counseling—the existence of an underlying mood disorder can complicate the recovery process. In order to help someone who struggles with a dual diagnosis, it’s important to know what type of mood disorder they suffer from and how to treat it.


What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

One such affliction is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Also known as seasonal depression, SAD occurs when someone suffers from a cyclical form of depression that only affects them at certain times of the year, typically wintertime. Mirroring the symptoms of normal depression, SAD is distinct only in its episodic nature and the timeframe of its appearance.

If an individual becomes severely depressed every time winter rolls around, there’s a good chance they may have seasonal depression. Although SAD generally receives less attention than more prominent mood disturbances such as bipolar disorder, it can be equally devastating for those who are unfortunate enough to experience its periodic attacks, particularly if they’re simultaneously trying to overcome a substance abuse problem.


A Rare but Potentially Serious Disorder

Although seasonal depression is relatively rare (affecting anywhere between one to five percent of the U.S. population), it is a serious disease. Symptoms of depression can persist for months at a time, sometimes lasting for more than a season. In fact, some people can suffer from the condition for up to 40% of the entire year.

SAD typically occurs during the winter, although, in rare instances, it can take the form a summer disease known as “summer depression.” In either case, it can range in severity from mild (causing irritability) to debilitating (leading to severe depression).

Given its long duration and frequent recurrences, SAD warrants attention as a significant mental health condition. Recovering addicts and substance abuse counselors, in particular, should be familiar with the symptoms of seasonal depression in order to correctly diagnose a co-occurring disorder when it is present.


SAD Facts & Figures

  • Approximately 5% of the U.S. population suffers from SAD in any given year.
  • That rate rises to 10% in the northern latitudes.1
  • Even within the U.S., the incidence of SAD fluctuates from 1.4% in southern locales like Florida to 9.7% in northern states like New Hampshire.2
  • The disease tends to affect women with greater frequency than men.
  • In most cases, the condition first appears when a person approaches adulthood.3


Symptoms of Winter SAD

Winter SAD, the most common form of seasonal depression, typically sets in by the end of autumn or the beginning of winter and persists for at least a few months, until the onset of spring or summer.

Those who suffer from winter depression typically exhibit a number of common symptoms. Similar to the signs of general depression, they include: Symptoms of Winter SAD

  • Fatigue
  • Reduced energy levels
  • Heightened need for sleep
  • Increased appetite
  • Weight gain
  • Concentration problems
  • Impulse for solitude


Symptoms of Summer SAD

Summer SAD, a less common form of seasonal depression, appears anytime between the end of spring and the beginning of summer. It typically lasts until autumn. Although similar to its winter cousin, summer depression nonetheless presents unique symptoms, including: Symptoms of Summer SAD

  • Sleep problems
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss


What Causes SAD?

Unfortunately, healthcare professionals don’t yet understand what gives rise to seasonal depression. While scientists do know that the condition is most likely the result of many What Causes SAD different factors, they haven’t yet pinpointed the direct causes of SAD. That, of course, makes it more difficult to effectively treat the condition when simultaneously treating a patient for addiction or dependency issues.

Nevertheless, in spite of the mystery surrounding the disorder, researchers have posed some promising hypotheses, ranging from biological factors (e.g., seasonal disturbances in hormonal levels and circadian rhythms) to environmental factors (e.g., lack of sunlight) to psychological factors (e.g., stress).4

One of the most commonly accepted explanations states that the lack of sunlight depresses the brain’s ability to produce serotonin, an important neurotransmitter that affects behavior and helps to regulate a person’s mood.


Treatment Options

Fortunately, there are a number of treatment options available for people with SAD. While few studies are conclusive, research does offer hope for people who struggle with seasonal depression. Treatments that hold promise include:

  • Light therapy, in which the patient is exposed to natural or artificial light
  • Medicine, which includes traditional anti-depressants
  • Cognitive behavior therapy, which involves individual and/or group sessions with therapists

Experts also recommend that people with SAD go outside daily, even if it’s cloudy; exercise for at least 30 minutes every day; and eat a healthy, balanced diet.


The Importance of Inpatient Treatment

Patients who suffer from both seasonal depression and substance abuse problems need particular attention. When someone has been given a dual diagnosis, it’s important that they seek professional help.

Although outpatient rehab can be beneficial, inpatient rehab is preferable for many dual diagnosis cases. That’s because inpatient facilities provide round-the-clock care and 24-hour monitoring, which can be critical for those who are trying to keep their substance abuse problem in check while simultaneously trying to manage their depression.

The best course of action is to find alcohol and drug treatment centers that have experience dealing with mood disorders. After all, physicians and counselors can only provide effective care if they know what to treat and how to treat it.

At Retreat Premier Addiction Treatment Centers, we’re prepared to handle the challenges that come with treating co-occurring disorders. Our highly skilled and highly experienced team includes licensed mental health counselors who are trained to care for patients with a dual diagnosis.


The Path to Sobriety and Wellness

Dealing with co-occurring disorders can be demanding, but it need not be disheartening. With the right support team standing behind you, it is possible to overcome the The Path to Sobriety and Wellnesschallenges posed by a dual diagnosis. It is possible to achieve sobriety and live a full life.

At Retreat Premier Addiction Treatment Centers, we specialize in helping people attain freedom from addiction and dependency. We offer the highest level of care in the form of both inpatient and outpatient treatment programs. Our rehab centers provide an ideal setting for recovery—tranquil, compassionate, and therapeutic.

We also have plenty of experience dealing with a diverse range of mood disorders. Whether you suffer from seasonal depression or another behavioral condition, we can help you on the journey to sobriety. If you believe you or someone you know suffers from drug addiction or alcohol abuse, call our 24/7 helpline at (855) 859-8808 or use our online form to send us an email.



  1.  American Family Physician. “Seasonal Affective Disorder.” http://www.aafp.org/afp/2012/1201/p1037.html
  2. “Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview and Update.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3004726/
  3. “Seasonal Depression (Seasonal Affective Disorder).” http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/seasonal-affective-disorder#1
  4. American Family Physician. “Seasonal Affective Disorder.” http://www.aafp.org/afp/2012/1201/p1037.html