Alcohol, Drugs and Seasonal Affective Disorder
Many years ago, Consultant Psychiatrist Tom Foster wrote a paper, Dying for a Drink, about the link between mental health, suicide, and the use of alcohol. In particular he explored the correlation of this around SAD (seasonal affective disorder). As we move further into the winter months and as a pre-cursor to alcohol awareness week this something that needs to be considered.
What is SAD?
SAD is a form of depression that strikes during specific seasons – usually the winter.
What causes SAD?
There still seems to be disagreement about the exact causes of SAD, but it’s often linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter autumn and winter days. The main theory is that a lack of sunlight might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus working properly, which according the NHS may affect the:
- Production of melatonin – melatonin is a hormone that makes you feel sleepy; in people with SAD, the body may produce it in higher than normal levels
- Production of serotonin – serotonin is a hormone that affects your mood, appetite and sleep; a lack of sunlight may lead to lower serotonin levels, which is linked to feelings of depression
- Body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) – your body uses sunlight to time various important functions, such as when you wake up, so lower light levels during the winter may disrupt your body clock and lead to symptoms of SAD
It’s also possible that some people are more vulnerable to SAD as a result of their genes, as some cases appear to run in families.
Symptoms of SAD
Symptoms of SAD can include:
- A persistent low mood/joylessness
- A loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities and a sense of hopelessness
- Feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
- Feeling lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day
- Sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning
- Craving carbohydrates and gaining weight
Unfortunately, many individuals struggling with depression due to SAD do not seek help. Rather, they attempt to self-medicate with drinking alcohol and drug use.
We are also in the unique position of the effects of COVID-19. Bereavement, isolation, loss of income and fear are triggering mental health conditions or exacerbating existing ones. Meanwhile, COVID-19 itself can lead to neurological and mental complications, such as delirium and agitation.
It is therefore no wonder that individuals look to ways to cope – with alcohol and drugs often being the first port of call. Of course the realities of this is that the relief alcohol and drugs bring is only temporary but in the process of drinking and using it introduces a whole new array of negative consequnces let alone the fact that those with substance use disorders are also more vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2 infection and stand a higher risk of severe outcomes and even death.
Don’t Wait; Get In Contact Now
Help Me Stop’s programmes not only address the drink and drug use it also addresses the underlaying causes such as depression, low self-esteem, stress and anxiety. If you are drinking more than six pints of average strength beer or six 175ml glasses of average strength wine a week then there are going to be some physical and mental health risks. The more you are drinking outside of this the higher the risk.
There are no safe levels of drug use so any use, even the smallest, will create some physical and mental health risks.
Help Me Stop’s intensive non-residential Dayhab programme is an effective solution that also offers 12 months of free accessible aftercare and family support options. Treatment is delivered face to face either in the mornings or afternoons over 6 weeks.
For those adults who are working and can’t access services in the day or get to our centre in West London we offer a 6-week evening online drug and alcohol treatment programme, run by the same therapists that provide the face to face programme.
If you would like to learn more about why you, or someone you care about, keeps relapsing or your alcohol and drug use is getting out of control and you want to do something about it then call us now on 0208 191 9174 or jump onto Live Chat/email us directly at https://www.helpmestop.org.uk/contact-us/
Chris Cordell is Help Me Stop’s General Manager and is a senior associate member of the Royal Society of Medicine, Certified International Recovery Specialist, member of the International Society of Addiction Medicine and a member of the Federation of Drug and Alcohol Professionals.