For people in substance use disorder treatment, living outside of the northern hemisphere’s warmer corners, the winter months can be tough to deal with while striving towards long-lasting recovery. The lack of vitamin D and comfortable time outside doing virtually any activity can have a detrimental impact on mood and emotions, which also control the basis of relapse triggers for many due to the psychological causes of opioid addiction. With the added complications of COVID-19 social distancing suggestions, there are countless people in recovery feeling the wear of both isolation and lack of access to the outdoors during this worldwide pandemic.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Often called SAD, seasonal affective disorder is a condition that presents itself much like depression, but it’s more often related to changes in season. Most people who suffer from the condition begin to feel the effects during fall and continue to deal with depression-like symptoms well through late spring. Moodiness, lethargy, and insomnia are all classic signs of SAD, along with problems with concentration and feelings of hopelessness.
There are different forms of SAD, however. While most people will feel its effects in the fall and winter, with a change of oversleeping habits, appetite changes, weight gain, and tiredness, there are those who experience it during the spring and summer as well. While less common, spring and summer SAD can inflict anxiety, weight loss, poor appetite, and trouble sleeping.
Coping with SAD
Instances of SAD are more prevalent among those with mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and other mood disorders. Those in treatment who are aware of their dual diagnosis are urged to take precautionary measures to handle SAD symptoms as they can tap into the psychological causes of opioid addiction and disrupt the recovery process. During a worldwide pandemic where virtually everyone is encouraged to stay at home, it can be challenging for those in treatment or recovery to access outside spaces to reduce their vulnerability. This unique situation poses issues for both medical providers in opioid use disorder treatment clinics and patients alike.
Preventing Seasonal Affective Disorder
It’s important to note that women are more often diagnosed than men and that it’s more prevalent in young adults. Family history and co-occurring mental illness play a role, but there are ways in which people can avoid dealing with this condition by taking some precautionary measures. Maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm and sleep cycle and regulating serotonin and melatonin levels are all part of regulating mood to prevent depression.
Patients in treatment concerned about SAD impeding their recovery journey are strongly urged to speak with their medical provider to get ahead of the situation by seeking help through psychotherapy and pharmacology to mitigate depression symptoms before they start or intensify. While many SAD cases will remit on their own, antidepressant medications can provide a safety net for those who are predisposed to the condition while also serving as a relapse prevention measure.
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