Alex Dimitriu, MD

Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine

Seasonal Affective Disorder and Addiction

Seasonal Affective Disorder and the Risk of Addiction

By Laura Baker: 

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that occurs only during certain times of the year. Most people will experience SAD during the winter due to lack of sunlight and the consequential lack of vitamin D, though spring and summer SAD also can occur. As with most mental illnesses, SAD creates an increased risk for addiction which can, in turn, worsen the symptoms. If you struggle with SAD or seasonal substance abuse, there are a few things you should know.

Self-Medication is a Concern for Those with Depression

Too many people with depression go untreated for their condition. Depression can become a very serious health concern and lead to suicidal thoughts and difficulty maintaining daily life. When a person goes untreated or undiagnosed, he may turn to detrimental forms of self-medication. 

Self-medication refers to the act of abusing substances in place of proper treatment for a condition. With the stigma attached to mental health care, it is all too common for those with mental illnesses to self-medicate. As a result, people with SAD may develop a habit of seasonally self-medicating through the winter months rather than seeking the help of a professional. If you are experiencing the symptoms of SAD, it is important that you speak to your doctor about a diagnosis and treatment plan.

Addiction Can Occur as a Result of Self-Medication

When a person turns to self-medication, he opens himself up to the possibility of developing an addiction. The habit of turning to a substance when depression strikes creates the perfect circumstances for a dependency to develop. With time, the brain will learn that when the symptoms of depression or SAD arise, it should expect substance abuse. The individual will begin to crave the substance whenever he feels depressed, even if the self-medication no longer seems to relieve his symptoms.

Unfortunately, addiction makes mental illnesses such as seasonal affective disorder worse. The result is a vicious cycle in which an untreated individual notices his symptoms growing worse and increases his substance abuse, thereby solidifying his addiction and worsening his symptoms even further. In order to fully recover from an addiction due to self-medication, it is critical that the person with the mental illness gets treatment. Without proper treatment for the illness, the individual will likelyreturn to self-medicating.

Proper Treatment Can Prevent or Eliminate Addiction

The best way to prevent and manage an addiction in those with depression or SAD is to get professional help. Without proper treatment, it is all too easy for a depressed person to turn to what he knows: substances. However, if he learns to manage his symptoms, the perceived need to self-medicate will decrease.

If the person in question has already cultivated an addiction, it certainly can be treated while effectively managing the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. Dual diagnosis treatment programs are a great option for those who struggle with self-medication because they not only tackle the addiction but also focus on treating the cause of depression. If you struggle with self-medication or realize you may have an addiction, it is important that you seek help as soon as possible. The longer the addiction is allowed to continue, the more your depression will progress.

When you have a form of depression like seasonal affective disorder, it can be difficult to identify the pattern of self-medication. However, like any form of depression, it is important that you speak with your doctor about a treatment plan. Treatment for SAD is reasonably simple and could potentially save you from the process of addiction recovery. If you believe you have SAD, do not wait. Speak with a professional now and get the help you need before you also are seeking help for an addiction due to self-medication to treat your disorder.

Image via Pixabay by moritz320

For additional information, see: https://www.nestmaven.com/sleep/seasonal-affective-disorder/

MENLO PARK  PSYCHIATRY & SLEEP MEDICINE  650-326-5888

CONDITIONS TREATED: anxiety, depression, attention deficit disorder, insomnia, bipolar disorder, and treatment resistant depression.

REGIONS COVERED:  We serve clients of the Bay Area, including the communities of Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Cupertino, Los Gatos, Los Altos, Mountain View, Portola Valley, Atherton, Sunnyvale, and San Jose