Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression influenced by changes in seasons. Generally, the disorder occurs in the late fall or early winter and ends during the spring and summer. However, depressive episodes can still occur during warmer months.
The condition is closely associated with addiction. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 20 percent of people diagnosed with a mood disorder such as seasonal affective disorder also have a substance abuse problem.
When seasonal affective disorder occurs in the fall or winter, people often experience weight gain, low energy or appetite changes. Individuals who suffer from the disorder in the spring or summer may deal with appetite and weight problems in addition to agitation, anxiety and trouble sleeping.
Addiction and seasonal affective disorder share certain characteristics — such as agitation, anxiety and feelings of hopelessness — and both are influenced by genetic and environmental factors. For individuals in recovery or those with an active addiction, seasonal affective disorder can be especially dangerous.
Seasonal affective disorder can lead to restlessness, insomnia and anxiety — symptoms related to addiction. The disorder also lowers a person’s ability to handle stress. People susceptible to the condition may experience stress that makes it difficult to work long hours or meet deadlines. Continuous or chronic stress can result in addiction. In addition, people recovering from substance abuse disorders may relapse if they don’t practice healthy techniques for managing stress.
The inability to handle stress can cause people to sink deeper into depression. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, seasonal affective disorder can cause long-term depression or bipolar disorder. Additionally, drug or alcohol use can worsen depression and lead to suicidal ideations in people with seasonal affective disorder.
Depressive disorders such as seasonal affective disorder can cause people to use alcohol to self-medicate, which involves treating self-recognized or self-diagnosed health problems with drugs or alcohol. People with the condition may drink or use illicit drugs to alleviate feelings of seasonal depression. This unhealthy behavior can result in addiction or worsen an existing substance use disorder.
Depression and other mood disorders can affect a person’s circadian rhythm, the biological cycle that influences sleepiness and alertness throughout the day. In people with seasonal affective disorder, a close relationship exists between circadian rhythms, mood and sleep regulation. Sleep problems can affect substance use, especially among individuals with addiction.
Individuals with seasonal affective disorder may be prone to alcohol problems. A 2017 study published in the journal Psychiatry Research found a strong relationship between seasonal affective disorder and alcoholism. People with seasonal affective disorder spend much time indoors during the winter, increasing their likelihood of drinking.
Seasonal affective disorder often affects teens and adults, and it occurs more often in women than men. Individuals who live in areas with long winter nights have an increased risk for developing the condition.
But the disorder can be managed. At home, individuals with seasonal affective disorder should try eating healthy foods, getting proper sleep, taking medications provided by a physician, exercising regularly and engaging in activities that make them happy.
Turning to drugs or alcohol to deal with symptoms of the condition can worsen depression and lead to relapse. People with addiction should also seek counseling to cope with feelings of depression caused by seasonal affective disorder.