In autumn and winter, the days get shorter, and skies are often cloudy, depriving us of natural sunlight and unleashing all sorts of mood disturbances in many people. This is often known as seasonal depression, winter depression, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). On top of causing depressed moods, difficulty getting out of bed, and other symptoms, SAD may be tightly related to alcohol abuse. In this article, we’ll explore what SAD is and how it’s connected to alcohol.
What Is Seasonal Depression?
Seasonal depression is a form of depression linked to the seasons, meaning it has specific symptoms that occur at certain times of the year. Seasonal affective disorder is more common in people who live in areas with cold and dark winters.
It is believed that seasonal depression occurs due to changes in sunlight exposure, which affects how much melatonin your body produces. Melatonin has been shown to play an important role in regulating mood and sleep patterns.
It’s a relatively common condition – it occurs in 0.5 to 3% of people struggling with it, over 10 million Americans. And 10-20% of people with a major depressive disorder also deal with SAD. And over 25% of people with bipolar disorder also note coping with some level of seasonal depression.
Seasonal depression can present itself similarly to regular depression but with added symptoms depending on the season. For example, during winter, you may experience more fatigue and increased sleep, appetite, and weight gain. You may also experience cravings for carbohydrates or other foods that are high in sugar to help combat feelings of anxiety and irritability.
While symptoms vary from person to person, they typically include the following:
- Feeling sad most of the time, most days
- No longer enjoying things you used to
- Feeling sluggish and sleepy
- Sleeping excessively and having trouble getting out of bed
- Overeating and comfort eating (and gaining weight as a result)
- Having difficulty staying focused
- Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
- In extreme cases, suicidal ideation
- Cravings for carbohydrates or sugary foods
- Cravings for alcohol
- Isolating from friends and family
Can Alcohol Affect the Prevalence of Seasonal Depression?
There’s a studied connection between alcoholism and seasonal depression. Both correspond to similar genetic and environmental factors and can be a comorbid diagnostic, meaning someone can struggle with both simultaneously.
However, alcohol will not cure seasonal depression or take away all of your symptoms. In fact, if you are not used to drinking or drinking too much, it may worsen your condition by worsening some of your symptoms.
For example, regular drinkers may experience an increase in the severity of their anxiety when they consume large amounts of alcohol. At the same time, those who do not drink regularly will likely feel more anxious after consuming any amount of alcohol due to its effects on neurotransmitters such as serotonin levels in brain regions linked with mood disorders.
It is important to be aware of your own body and how alcohol affects you. The fact that drinking may help some people deal with the symptoms of seasonal depression doesn’t mean that everyone will have the same experience.
Alcohol can worsen the symptoms of seasonal depression in some cases. Alcohol is a depressant, so it can make you feel worse as opposed to better if you’re already feeling depressed or anxious about other things in your life.
Nonetheless, it’s essential to understand the correlation between alcohol use and depression. The dynamic between alcohol and seasonal depression is different for everyone. In some people, seasonal depression may lead to alcohol abuse, while in other cases, alcoholism may have been present before seasonal depression, making each other worse.
Also, their correlation doesn’t immediately mean that one causes the other. It’s more complex than that.
Treatment For Seasonal Depression And Alcohol Abuse
All in all, alcohol is not recommended as a treatment for seasonal depression. The best way to combat this condition is through therapy and medication, which can help you cope with the symptoms of both seasonal and nonseasonal depression.
It’s important to highlight the dangers of self-medication. Lots of people dealing with depression symptoms turn to substances like alcohol or other drugs as medication or a way to calm their symptoms. Unfortunately, this only exchanges one problem for another, placing you at a higher risk of overdosing or worsening your depression.
If you or someone you know is dealing with seasonal depression or alcohol abuse, seek help immediately. No matter what triggered the disorder, a comprehensive treatment approach can help you find long-lasting sobriety and recovery.