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Definitive Guide to Seasonal Affective Disorder & Addiction [INFOGRAPHIC]



Anywhere from 4-6% of the population in America suffers from S.A.D. – Seasonal Affective Disorder, however, there still remains an astounding amount of people who’ve never heard of it or simply don’t know what it is.

While it may not be widely promoted or talked about, the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder can impact those from all walks of life, including young people, women, or those with a family history of depression.

There’s even a milder version of S.A.D. that affects anywhere from 10 to 20 per cent of the population, making it a much more common condition than many today realize.

Although S.A.D. can affect people from all over, it’s more typically found in those living further from the equator (such as the northern climates).

This suggests there could be a strong correlation between the reduction of sunlight during changing seasons and the disturbances this causes within an individual’s circadian rhythm.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a unique type of depression that displays a number of key symptoms during specific time-frames, year upon year. While having the potential to affect anyone, S.A.D. is four times more prevalent among women than in men, according to actual diagnoses numbers cited by an article from the National Institute of Mental Health.[1] [2]

With this understanding, there are a unique set of factors that can place someone for higher risk of being impacted by Seasonal Affective Disorder.

One major factor is that Seasonal Affective Disorder is much more common in those suffering from Major Depression, a condition affecting over 17.3 million citizens in the United States (or 7.1% of adults).[3]

Also called “seasonal depression”, the most common part of the year that Seasonal Affective Disorder takes place is during the winter months. While a portion of those experiencing Season Affective Disorder does so in the summertime, this is a much smaller number and a rarer circumstance.

For some, the effects of S.A.D. can be devastating, with symptoms including complete social withdrawal and a lack of productivity at their work or school environment, and even the inability to find or maintain employment.

Shorter days and longer nights during the winter may lead to an increase in the body’s natural production of melatonin, resulting in more fatigue – one of the suspected underlying causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

While the precise cause of S.A.D. remains unknown, a number of central theories are the focus for most professionals and experts due to their solid basis in strong scientific research.

These theories centre around the lack of sunlight, bolstered by the number of cases involving S.A.D. that affect people who are blind, with support from a study conducted by the Glostrup University Hospital and located in the National Institutes of Health’s U.S. National Library of Medicine. [4]

The study showed that the number of blind participants suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder was significantly higher than their full-sighted counterparts, with 17% of the blind subjects displaying symptoms compared to only 8% of the full-sighted participants. This is a strong indicator of the role sunlight may play in the illness

S.A.D Infographic

Below, we share an insightful infographic on S.A.D:

Symptoms and Warning Signs of S.A.D.

Indications that someone may be battling S.A.D. share many of the same attributes that are commonly found with people facing depression, with the exception that S.A.D. happens only at specific times during the year.

People fighting Seasonal Affective Disorder may feel an overall sluggishness, or even become more irritable than they were previously. S.A.D. can also lead to problems regarding sleeping or issues maintaining concentration or focus, often leading to negative consequences or a loss of interest in work and study.

It is of crucial importance to note that if left untreated, these symptoms can potentially increase in frequency and intensity, even leading to thoughts of suicide.

It might also help to know that evidence exists showing that S.A.D. may be hereditary in nature (meaning, it is passed down through genetic traits), so if a parent or grandparent in the family has a history of depression, that person may be more at risk for S.A.D.

Common signs indicating someone may be suffering from winter S.A.D. involve overeating or a steep decline in energy levels. Another common signal is regularly oversleeping, something many winter S.A.D. patients contend with. Low energy and persistent feelings of tiredness (also depicting those with the condition) are often accompanied by sensations of hopelessness or worthlessness. [5]

Many of these signs are evidenced in people experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder during the fall (or autumn) months which are, interestingly, distinct and separate from those that take place in the summer or spring.

Patients dealing with spring and summer variations of Seasonal Affective Disorder have unique symptoms that include insomnia (trouble sleeping), becoming easily anxious or agitated, losing weight, and trouble with lack of appetite.

For those with bipolar symptoms as well, spring and summer can bring bouts of mania or hypomania. In the winter, it’s more common for them to experience depression (as well as in the fall time). [6]

Whether suffering from either version of S.A.D., there are several ways people can treat their symptoms and get back on track to a fuller, more satisfying life.

Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder

Dealing with days that don’t go well or where people feel sadder than usual is a normal phenomenon, however, if these feelings lead to the desire to drink or use drugs, or your schedule and relationships are affected by strong sensations of anxiety or sadness, seeing a doctor might be the best solution.

According to Doctor Norman Rosenthal, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University, the three main ways of treating S.A.D. are light therapy, psychotherapy, and medication. [7]

Today, light therapy has become a mainstream way to help people deal with Seasonal Affective Disorder after first being tested over 35 years ago.

Not everyone though benefits from light therapy, although the majority (60-80%) do.

With a comprehensive approach for addressing the symptoms and overall condition of Seasonal Affective Disorder, concrete steps can be taken to reduce its impact on the personal and professional lives of those who suffer from it. Doing so can help them to obtain a better overall daily lifestyle.

For those dealing with the most common (winter) variety of the disorder, taking regular key vitamins that will replenish melatonin and serotonin levels in the brain is a proactive step to guarding against some of Seasonal Affective Disorder’s main causes.

While it’s no replacement for consulting with a medical professional, when combined with a daily light therapy regimen, it may be a very effective way to counteract some of the chief symptoms of S.A.D.

Most people respond in just two to four days after starting a light therapy treatment schedule, although this number varies depending on unique conditions of the individual.

In terms of medication that may be prescribed for S.A.D., antidepressants have shown a capability to reduce some of the most severe or intense symptoms those suffering from the disorder might experience. [8]

For many, psychotherapy is another indispensable way to address the challenges presented by Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Finding ways to get more rest and cope with problems that are intensified by the disorder can be a rewarding and powerful motivator to deal with the symptoms and accomplish more.

Improvement from S.A.D. may take time, so it’s always important to stay patient (especially in the beginning), but after some trying and employing the right techniques, much progress can be made if the patient remains committed.

For those who do not find light therapy to be effective, cognitive behavioural therapy may be a better alternative. Cognitive behavioural therapy (or “CBT”) is a short-term version of psychotherapy that focuses on setting goals to solve difficulties and overcome problems. [9]

Regardless of which treatment approach is selected, it is of prime importance for those with S.A.D. to prioritize self-care and closely monitor their improvements, progress, and shortcomings. This helps to ensure that every effort is made to bring the symptoms of S.A.D back toward a healthy balance.

These efforts may include regular exercise for improved energy or having fun and recreation to offset the feelings of sadness that may be experienced. It might also include relaxing music, or candles to cope with the intense sensations or emotions brought on by S.A.D.

Seasonal Affective Disorder and Addiction

Unfortunately, the reality is that people struggling with S.A.D. often may resort to substance abuse or alcoholism as a way to deal with their symptoms.

Sufferers of S.A.D. can turn to drugs as a way to reward themselves and compensate for the negative effects that S.A.D. can have on the brain’s dopamine levels (as well as other key chemicals involved in the regulation of moods and behaviours, such as serotonin).

A 1992 study by The International Journal of Neuroscience found a possible connection between Seasonal Affective Disorder and cocaine abuse in a 25-year-old patient suffering from both.

The study found that because both conditions impacted the brain’s pineal gland (which deals in some form with both circadian rhythms and melatonin levels) they shared an underlying commonality and association within the test patient. [10]

This link between substance abuse and Seasonal Affective Disorder is also reflected statistically in the fact that a whopping 50% of those suffering from depression also deal with a substance abuse problem at some point in their lives.

Because many who choose to misuse alcohol do so seasonally (weather during the winter months or another time of year), this too could potentially coincide with the condition of Seasonal Affective Disorder and create a conflict between the two for patients who are vulnerable.

Because of these commonalities, it is especially important for victims exhibiting both problems with S.A.D. and substance abuse to take extra precautions to protect themselves from the dangers they face. Keeping blinds and windows open to let in sunlight is one easy and proactive approach to help restore balance.

Other ways people suffering from addiction and S.A.D. may further protect themselves include spending more time outside to breath fresh air and experience daylight. Doing so shortly after rising from bed is considered the best time to do this, as the brain and body are more receptive to sunlight and fresh air.

If yoga or meditation are things you enjoy, focusing on these may also be helpful – the goal is simply to stay active and spend more time in deep relaxation. However, you can best accomplish these objectives. is the best approach.

Avoid staying still for too long (an hour or more) if at all possible, and take into account key vitamins such as B-2 and omega-3 fatty acids for your diet plans. These can promote better brain connectivity and health.

Another positive effort is spending as much time as possible around those you love and care for because a strong system of nourishment and support does wonder to keep patients away from narcotic substances or alcohol.

After discussing all of the issues presented by Seasonal Affective Disorder, it’s clear to see this is a unique condition that confronts many people worldwide today. Knowing the risks and if you might be susceptible, as well as the warning signs or symptoms, can prevent you or a loved one from becoming overwhelmed when it comes to how to address Seasonal Affective Disorder.

While S.A.D. is a subtle and complex condition, that doesn’t mean we must be helpless when it comes to making decisions about how to treat and overcome it. Being aware and taking initiatives to receive professional medical advice, while also putting into practice an effective self-treatment plan, can do much to reduce the negative effects brought about by S.A.D.

If you fear that someone you love might be suffering from S.A.D., it’s always great to start by simply having a conversation and keeping an open mind.

If things escalate from there or you see obvious warning signs, you shouldn’t hesitate to contact a medical professional, like a psychotherapist who is trained in dealing with S.A.D. or a doctor who has a comprehensive understanding of the condition.

Always remember that Seasonal Affective Disorder affects patients in very separate and unique ways, so developing a well-rounded strategy to confront it is by necessity an individual and in-depth process.

By knowing what you are up against, creating an all-encompassing strategy, and always remaining keenly aware of your recovery process, you can give yourself or a loved one the best chance possible for defeating S.A.D. and returning to the upbeat, balanced way of life you love most.

Resources

[1]  National Institute of Mental Health. “Seasonal Affective Disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute of Mental Health, March 2016, nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml

[2]  Melrose, Sherri. “Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches.”
National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, 25 November 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4673349/

[3]  National Institute of Mental Health. “Major Depression.” National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute of Mental Health, February 2019. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.shtml

[4]  Glostrup University Hospital. “Seasonal Affective Disorder and Visual Impairment.” Clinical Trials, Psychiatric Centre Rigshospitalet, 19 January 2019, https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03403959?recrs=abc&cond=%22Seasonal+Affective+Disorder%22&rank=1

[5]  Psychology Today. “Seasonal Affective Disorder.” Psychology Today, Psychology Today, 7 February 2019, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder

[6]  Mayo Clinic Staff. “Seasonal Affective Disorcer (SAD).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Clinic, 25 October 2017, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651

[7]  Targum and Rosenthal. “Seasonal Affective Disorder.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Psychiatry (Edgmont), May 2008, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2686645/

[8]  Robinson et. al. “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).” HelpGuide, Help Guide, June 2019, https://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad.htm

[9]  Psychology Today. “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.” Psychology Today, Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapy-types/cognitive-behavioral-therapy

[10]  Sandyk and Kanofsky. “Cocaine Addiction: Relationship to Seasonal Affective Disorder.”National Center for Biotechnology Information, The International Journal of Neuroscience, May-June 1992, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1342039

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