Fall has arrived. Temperatures have dropped, school has started and the holidays are around the corner. The days are getting shorter as the sun sets earlier each day and the leaves are changing from green to a vibrant purple, yellow, orange or red. It is also a time when the pressures of life increase. Schedules are full and finances are tight. For some, work has slowed and they need to get a second job. Shorter days bring less sunlight. The thought of the holidays are more stressful than joyous. These changes can be triggers for someone who is in recovery and can lead to an increase of SAD, seasonal affective disorder.

SAD and Recovery

Many people can struggle as we enter the fall season, especially if you’re trying to stay sober. The Mayo Clinic defines seasonal affective disorder (SAD) as a type of depression that happens with the changing of seasons. Symptoms can be different depending on the seasonal change, such as:

  • Feeling depressed for part of the day, almost everyday
  • Not enjoying the activities you have in the past
  • Lacking energy
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Appetite changes
  • Feeling sluggish and/or irritated
  • Loss of concentration
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and/or guilty
  • Having regular thoughts of death and/or suicide

It is a normal, human response to have days where you feel sad. Bad days and sometimes bad weeks happen. However, if you are overwhelmed with these feelings regularly and you can’t get yourself motivated to face your everyday tasks, call your medical and/or mental health provider.

MedlinePlus mentions that there is not a direct cause for SAD. However, research supports that a person with SAD can have an imbalance of serotonin, which is a chemical in the brain that affects mood. It notes correlation with an increase in the sleep hormone, melatonin, which controls sleep. Low vitamin D can also be a cause.

Treatment for SAD

The American Psychiatric Association says that symptoms of SAD can generally improve with the passing of the season. However, symptoms can improve with treatment. There are several types of treatments available, including light therapy, talk therapy, antidepressant medication and/or a combination of the three. It is important for you or a loved one in a substance abuse program to receive treatment for SAD while continuing treatment. 

1. Light Therapy

Light therapy comprises sitting in front of a light box. This box filters out harmful UV rays and gives off a bright light. It is a replacement for natural light during the winter months. It takes 20 minutes or more a day, and most people can feel better within two weeks. For some, increasing their time outside, in the sunlight, or through an open window can reduce symptoms. It is important to continue the use of light therapy until the fall and winter seasons have passed.

2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of talk therapy that’s considered the most effective for SAD. According to NIMH, CBT:

 “Relies on basic techniques of CBT such as identifying negative thoughts and replacing them with more positive thoughts along with a technique called behavioral activation. Behavioral activation seeks to help the person identify activities that are engaging and pleasurable, whether indoors or outdoors, to improve coping with winter.”  

It is, also, an effective type of therapy used to help manage substance abuse and other mental health conditions such as anxiety. The focus is on reframing negative thinking and to change how you respond to life stressors. 

3. Medication

NIMH states that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the go-to antidepressant medications used to treat SAD. The FDA has also approved bupropion, a different type of antidepressant, for treatment. There are, however, risks to taking medications and should be thoroughly discussed with your treatment provider. 

Finding the best treatment for SAD can take time, but it is worth the effort to find a way to enjoy the cool days of fall and remain sober.

New Hope Ranch is well-versed in treating co-occurring disorders such as SAD and substance use. Our top priority is getting you access to the care you need. We are here to help get you to enjoy the changing seasons again, clean and sober. Call (737) 600-8565 today to get the care you or your loved one needs.