Categories: Mental Health, Recovery

How to Recognize the Signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

It is common for people to have lack of motivation, energy, and joy when darker weather comes and it becomes colder. It can begin to impact daily functioning, influencing their ability to maintain relationships, seek social support, or function in everyday life. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can be detrimental to recovery unless you know the signs and how to mitigate symptoms.

Seasonal Affective Disorder Diagnosis

Although many people joke about hibernation in winter, some people have depressive symptoms which actually are severe enough to interfere with day-to-day life. Diagnosis of Seasonal Affective Disorder lies on the spectrum of depression. Although depression is cyclical, people with SAD and symptoms flare up in fall or winter and remission comes in spring and summer (although not always). As with depression, SAD is diagnosed more often in men than women.

SAD Causes

Doctors do not fully understand why Seasonal Affective Disorder occurs, but they continue to learn more about seasonal affective disorder everyday. Like many mental illnesses, science has been unable to point to a specific cause for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Research has been able to determine some biological clues to help us better understand why people may get SAD and how to help those suffering find relief. SAD has to do with brain changes. People with the condition usually have lower levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, energy, sleep, and digestion. Many people with SAD over-produce melatonin, a chemical that encourages sleep. Short, winter days may compound deficiency and doctors believe there may be genetics behind SAD.

Substance Use Disorder and Seasonal Affective Disorder

Many people who struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder also struggle with substance issues, including unhealthy drinking patterns. Science is not complete on this, but there are triggers for co-occurring disorders as people may self-medicate with alcohol when stressed. SAD often peaks at times of year which bring stress (such as holidays). Seasonal Affective Disorder often impacts people during the holiday season when people have higher expectations, financial stress, and increased risk of depression.


Treating seasonal affective disorder begins with low-level interventions often that are effective in improving mood. One of the most well-known treatments for SAD is light therapy. This light therapy is beneficial. The brain cannot tell the difference in type of light as it is geared towards providing neurological stimulation provided by natural light. Vitamin D supplements may also help alleviate SAD symptoms. The dosage varies but other treatments can help including exercise, mindfulness, and psychotherapy. Doctors may prescribe medication depending on a person’s needs.

A Step in the Right Direction provides quality sober living for clients seeking support for addiction recovery. We teach people how to live a sober life through community building, accountability, and healthy living. Our sober living program is staffed by people who understand the power of addiction. For more information about sober living programs for men and women as well as recovery programs, call (818) 921-7132

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