Drugs, Alcohol and Seasonal Depression

Seasonal Effective Disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression is a form of depression that hits us during a certain season. It usually hits during the winter months. Individuals usually look for ways to cope with their feelings and many turn to drugs and alcohol as their first port of call. This can be a struggle for those going through drug and alcohol rehab.

There is still a disagreement about what in particular causes SAD, but it is most probably linked to the lack of sunlight during the shorter days we see in autumn and winter. It is thought that the lack of sunlight has an effect on the part of the brain named the ‘hypothalamus’, stopping it from working as it should. The NHS has found this affects the following:

  • Production of melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone present when we are tired – it makes us feel sleepy. In people with SAD, the body may be producing more melatonin than usual.

  • Production of serotonin

Serotonin is one of our happy hormones – it affects our mood, sleep, and appetite. A lack of serotonin will lead to lower levels of serotonin happening in the body. This can be linked to people feeling depressed.

  • Our body’s internal clock

Also known as our circadian rhythm, this is how our body uses sunlight to time important functions in our life such as waking up. Lower levels of light can throw this off, and lead to depression symptoms.

What are the symptoms of seasonal depression?

Symptoms can include the following:

  • Joylessness and a low mood which persists
  • Lack of pleasure or interest in activities which was once enjoyed
  • Feeling irritable
  • Feeling worthless and guilty
  • Lacking energy and sleeping in the day
  • Sleeping for longer than usual and finding it difficult to get up in the morning
  • Weight gain

It is ok to seek help if you think that you are suffering from seasonal depression. Self-medicating with drugs and alcohol will only worsen the symptoms of depression over time.

As we are also in the middle of a pandemic; bereavement, isolation, loss of income, and fear of the future are all making mental health symptoms worse. It is no wonder that people are looking for ways to cope. Alcohol and drugs, however, will only bring a temporary high and will be followed by other negative consequences. Do not wait, contact your GP now if you feel you are suffering from SAD.