Now that the weather is getting colder and the days are getting shorter, some people are going to be more at risk of alcohol abuse. A small percentage of alcoholics seem to be able to control their drinking habits during the summer months, but their addictive behaviour escalates in winter. One of the reasons why this might be happening is that the person is suffering from seasonal affective disorder.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) refers to a situation where individuals become depressed at the same time every year – most usually in the winter. The person with SAD may have no symptoms of the depression at any other time of the year. It is common for individuals with this condition to start becoming depressed during late autumn, with this feeling of being very down lasting throughout winter and right up until spring.
The symptoms of the winter variety of SAD vary a great deal but usually involve the following:
- lack of energy
- the desire to stay in bed most of the day
- a feeling of impending doom
- a feeling of hopelessness
- pessimism about the future
- comfort eating and possible weight gain
- reduction in the ability to concentrate
- loss of interest in hobbies and other things that would usually be a source of excitement
- the urge to isolate and avoid social situations.
There are a number of reasons why people can develop SAD. The move to a new season can interfere with the levels of a hormone called melatonin, which can have a noticeable impact on their mood. Lack of sunlight can also have an effect on a hormone called serotonin, which also plays a role in mood regulation. Another potential reason for developing SAD in the winter months is that the biological clock is disrupted by the reduced amount of sunlight and the change of the clocks.
The symptoms of SAD can be very unpleasant, making it tempting for sufferers to try to self-medicate as a means of feeling a little better. In the beginning, alcohol can feel like it is bringing some relief, but it is actually making the symptoms much worse. This is because alcohol is a type of drug known as a depressant, which exacerbates the symptoms of depression.
There is uncertainty as to the exact relationships between SAD and alcoholism. Some people may develop the symptoms of SAD because of their alcohol abuse, but it is also very likely many individuals turn to alcohol for self-medication.
It can be very difficult to diagnose SAD in alcoholics because their symptoms are usually considered to be due to the substance abuse. It is only when the person becomes sober and is still struggling during the winter that the presence of SAD is more likely to be diagnosed. The problem is that if this condition is not detected in time, the person may use the winter blues as an excuse to relapse back to addiction.
If the individual is dealing with SAD and alcoholism, it is usually referred to as a dual diagnosis. It is important to have both of these conditions treated together because if the sufferer continues feeling depressed in the winter, they may be at high risk of relapse. It is also going to be very difficult to treat the SAD until the drinking is brought under control.