10 Ways to Fight Seasonal Affective Disorder & Drug Addiction

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This time of year can be very difficult, especially for those who suffer from addiction, as holidays and moments of celebration are often considered to be triggers for those in recovery because of the social aspects of casual drinking or drug use during the winter months. What can make it even more difficult to remain sober during this time is when a recovering addict also suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD or seasonal depression.

Addiction is characterized as a brain disorder and can often be coupled with other mental health diagnoses or mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). For people who live with both a mental health disorder and struggle with addiction, just know that you are not alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 20 percent of people who are diagnosed with a mood disorder, such as SAD, also suffer from a substance abuse problem.

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People who suffer from mental health issues, are more likely to use substances, like drugs or alcohol to self-medicate.

Symptoms of SAD

If you are unsure whether or not you may be suffering from seasonal depression you can always speak with a mental health professional. Common symptoms of SAD include those of major depression along with several others. People who are suffering from seasonal depression may experience all or some of the following;

  • Depressed mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in appetite and sleep patterns
  • Loss of pleasure in certain activities
  • Social withdrawal
  • Cravings for carbohydrates (unique to SAD)
  • Excessive daytime sleeping (unique to SAD)
  • Heaviness in arms and legs (unique to SAD)

Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Researchers and doctors are still unsure about the exact cause for seasonal affective disorder but some factors that attribute to this condition include;

  • Biological Clock (Circadian rhythm)- As the days grow shorter around the fall or autumn season, we begin to lose sunlight, which can disrupt your body’s internal clock, causing feelings of depression.
  • Serotonin Levels- The reduced sunlight can lead to a drop in the brain’s chemical that affects mood, the neurotransmitter serotonin.
  • Melatonin Levels- The seasonal change can disrupt the body’s natural production of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and moods.
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Changes in the weather can affect your mental health in very prominent ways.

10 Ways to Fight Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

            If you are one of many suffering from the symptoms of seasonal depression and are wondering how to treat SAD, then do not worry, there are many treatment options available that can help alleviate some of the symptoms.

  1. Know the signs and symptoms- Knowing what is happening with you and your body can help greatly in managing the symptoms. If you begin feeling sad during the autumn months, being aware of your seasonal depression can help keep you from spiraling down a hole that seems impossible to get out of, simply just by understanding what is going on.
  2. Try light from a box- Light therapy is reported to be one of the most effective treatments for the “winter blues”. There are specialty light boxes or lamps designed to produce effects similar to natural light, helping to restore your body’s natural circadian rhythm and production of melatonin. Research suggests that sitting in front of a light box first thing in the morning, everyday, during the fall and winter months for at least 30 minutes can greatly reduce the symptoms of SAD.
  3. Get outside as much as you can- Nature is a form of therapy for almost any mental health disorder. So, try to make it a point to go on a at least a 10 minute nature walk every day, or as often as possible, regardless of the weather. Studies have shown that even short walks increase mood, along with other mental and physical health benefits. Not to mention, the sunlight you get from being outside is much more beneficial than that from a window, helping to promote natural production of serotonin and melatonin. Going outside around noon when the sun is brightest can help reap the most benefits in a short amount of time.
  4. Exercise regularly- Aside from talking a daily break in nature , trying to exercise regularly is especially important for people suffering from SAD. Exercise is a proven treatment for many forms of depression. Try combining your daily exercise with going outside to help decrease the symptoms of seasonal depression.
  5. Take vitamin D- Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to SAD in at least one study, so doctors have begun urging patients to up their vitamin D intake, especially during the winter months.
  6. Caring for plants- Research has shown that gardening can help reduce feelings of depression. By caring for something small during the winter months, it can help alleviate some of the symptoms of seasonal depression.
  7. Stay Connected- Avoid the sometimes overwhelming feeling to remain reclusive during the cold months. Stay connected with your family and remain active in your support groups, such as AA, even when you feel like hibernating. Staying connected with your support group can help combat feelings of depression by getting you out of the house and by allowing you the opportunity to express out loud how you are feeling.
  8. Paint walls in lighter colors- Studies suggest that people who suffer from seasonal depression feel better when they are surrounded by lighter colors. Aside from the mood lifting ambiance, sometimes just doing the activity of painting alone can be a soothing process for someone with a depressive disorder.
  9. Keep a journal- Sometimes we have thoughts or feelings we are uncomfortable sharing with others, by writing them down we can begin to understand our emotions better. Writing down our negative thoughts or emotions gives us the opportunity to cope with them and feel as though we have gotten them off our chest, allowing ourselves the chance to fully process them. Plan on writing for at least 20 minutes a day, and try doing it before bed so that you can express the last 24 hours in as much detail as possible.
  10. Try aromatherapy- Essential oils can activate the same part of the brain that is responsible for controlling moods and our internal clock. Purchase an oil diffuser for your home or workspace, or try adding a couple drops in your bath.
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Understanding yourself and your mental health can greatly help you overcome the “winter blues”. Seek help before you become overwhelmed!

 

While all of these tips are useful, knowing when to get contact a professional for help is the most important. If you are having extreme thoughts of suicide or are having a difficult time with coping during the winter months, or in general, then there is nothing wrong with getting help. Speak with your doctor, who can potentially prescribe medications, or contact a counselor or therapist who can help you cope with the emotions of depression. If you are a recovering addict and find that you are struggling to stay sober, we are always here to help! Reach out to us today to begin specialized treatment.

 

(877) 228-4679

Can Brain Imaging Help Beat Drug Addiction?

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The word addiction itself comes from the latin phrase meaning “enslaved to” or “bound by”. Addiction is a disease of the brain that is characterized by the inability to stop using drugs or alcohol despite the user having experienced severe negative consequences throughout their everyday lives, such as job loss, relationship problems, or extreme poverty. People who suffer from this disease experience compulsive behavior related to using drugs and alcohol, they are unable to stop doing them even though they know it will cause further problems in life or keep them from bettering their situation entirely.

People with substance abuse problems have distorted thinking, behavior, and bodily functions. However, not everyone who uses drugs or alcohol will become addicted, there are many factors that can lead to someone developing an addiction, such as genetic predisposition, environmental factors like peer pressure, and dynamics in the family and home. When someone begins using drugs or alcohol, a surge of chemicals, mainly dopamine, are released inside the brain. Dopamine is often referred to as the brain’s reward and pleasure centers, this chemical is released naturally in the brain when we experience pleasurable moments like eating a delicious meal or participating in your favorite activity. When a person continuously uses drugs or alcohol, our brains begin to rely on this surge of chemicals and it needs them in order to function properly.

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Disease is any condition that changes the way an organ functions, much like how heart disease permanently damages the heart. With prolonged and repeated use of drugs and alcohol, the brain begins to change over time, creating new pathways for these chemicals to go back and forth between neurons. This ultimately causes changes to the brain’s structure and the way the brain functions, some of these changes are even permanent. Drugs and alcohol change the brain in many ways but there are 3 areas that are most heavily affected.

Areas of the Brain Affected by Drugs and Alcohol

  • Basal Ganglia- This area of the brain plays an important role in positive forms of motivation and our habit forming principles. This area of the brain allows us to feel pleasure and when it becomes inundated by drugs and alcohol it becomes less sensitive to the natural reward system, making it difficult to feel pleasure without the use of drugs and alcohol.
  • Extended Amygdala- The extended amygdala plays an important role in producing feelings such as anxiety, irritability, and overall uneasiness, which are typically synonymous with feelings of withdrawal. With repeated use of drugs and alcohol, this area of the brain becomes more sensitive, causing the user to seek drugs and alcohol again to avoid these negative feelings.
  • Prefrontal Cortex- Perhaps the most crucial of all, this area of the brain plays an important role in the ability to think, plan, solve problems, make decisions, and exert self control over impulses. This is also the last part of the brain to mature, making teens more susceptible to becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol. When drugs and alcohol are repeatedly used, it shifts the circuits from stress, to reward, to lack of impulse control, ultimately creating a situation where drugs and alcohol have taken over.

How Brain Imaging Can Help Fight Addiction

With the evolution of science, this has changed the model of addiction. What was once seen as lacking moral fortitude or the ability to control one’s actions, scientists and doctors now understand that it requires more than good intentions to fight this disease. Now widely recognized as a brain disease and cataloged as a mental health disorder, doctors and scientists have been conducting brain imaging studies in order to better understand how to effectively treat and manage this chronic disease.

Since addiction causes changes to the brain, there are differences when comparing brain image scans of a non addict to an addict. Areas like the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for decision making, show major differences that can be attributed to the lack of self control in addicts and their inability to stop using drugs and alcohol. Using brain scans to help treat addiction has shown significant promise to recovering addicts and their families. Aside from the medical standpoint, brain scans help in many ways when it comes to recovery.

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How Brain Scans Help Recovering Addicts

  • Brain Scans Don’t Lie- Brain scans clearly show toxic damage and exposure that is caused by drugs or alcohol. These illegal substances negatively impact areas of the brain that play an important role in being able to control one’s emotions and critical thinking abilities, brain scans show the damage left by drugs and alcohol.
  • Brain Scans Reveal Effects of Drugs- Seeing as how brain scans don’t lie, it is much easier to understand the correlation between drug and alcohol use and the visible damage caused by them. Substances like marijuana and nicotine cause significant changes in brain function and even everyday things like sugar can impact the way our brains operate on a daily basis.
  • Brain Imaging Shows That There is More Than One Addiction- Through brain imaging, we have been able to gain a deeper understanding into addiction. Now, addiction can be broken down into different categories.
    • Compulsive Addicts
    • Impulsive Addicts
    • Impulsive-Compulsive Addicts
    • Sad or Emotional Addicts
    • Anxious Addicts
    • Temporal Lobe Addicts

Researchers have gained valuable insight into how to effectively treat and manage multiple types of addiction, instead of grouping them all together.

  • Brain Imaging Helps to Break the Stigma and Shame- For years, decades even, addiction was treated as a lack of will power and moral discipline. With the advancement of technology, brain scans prove that drugs and alcohol alter the structure of the brain. An addict who is suffering may also feel as though it is all their fault, brain imaging helps show that addiction is a disorder of the brain.
  • Brain Scans Help Remove Denial- Many people with addictions are in denial that they even have a problem. When an addict is confronted with a brain scan image that shows visible damage from drugs and alcohol, it is difficult to deny that there is an underlying issue.
  • Brain Images Help Families Understand- Much like when an addict is shown their brain on drugs, when a family member is shown the scans of loved one it can help remove any blame they place on each other knowing that addiction is a result of chemical and structural changes to the brain, not something they did personally.
  • Brain Scans Can Reveal Co-occurring Disorders- Another benefit when using brain imaging as an additional tool to combat addiction is that it can also reveal co-occurring disorders, such as traumatic brain injuries, depression, or ADHD. In order to heal from addiction, these issues also need to be addressed.
  • Brain Scans Give Hope- Being able to see that your brain is toxic can be a great motivator. Brain scans also make it easy to track the progress of an individual throughout their treatment plan and their sobriety. Using before and after pictures can help someone stay motivated by being able to actually see the healing of their brain.

With a deeper understanding of addiction, we hope to remove the stigma surrounding it. There is no shame in asking for help, if you or someone you know are addicted to drugs, reach out to us for help today! We have many treatment programs available designed to fit your needs.

 

(877) 228-4679