How to Navigate the Challenges of Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and Dual Diagnosis

When people struggle with substance use disorder, the stressors can pile up quickly. The body is in fight or flight mode and people can struggle to balance their emotional and physical states. Learning to navigate the challenges of coping with everything can be overwhelming. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of seasonal depression that is common in winter, but co-occurring disorders make it more challenging to cope, especially with the body in heightened awareness from substance abuse. Learn more about the challenges of navigating seasonal affective disorder (SAD) with dual diagnosis and how to experience some hope in the midst of the difficult moments.

Symptoms of SAD

Knowing the symptoms of SAD can help family and friends support a loved one who is experiencing heightened emotions and physical issues as a result of winter’s onset. Coping with some of these symptoms makes life difficult for people already struggling with mental health and addiction issues, which cause emotional, spiritual, and physical distress. Some of the following symptoms may or may not occur and can have a negative impact on a person’s ability to cope with recovery well:

  • Low energy
  • Overeating
  • Weight gain
  • Craving carbs
  • Social withdrawal or hibernating

Mood disorders can increase the likelihood of having a substance use disorder.  Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is no different. It can intensify depression and draw people to relapse by self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. An integrated treatment plan can be a great way to support someone struggling with a SAD and dual diagnosis.

Finding Hope in Treatment

When people talk about integrated treatment plans, these are pathways to healing for people in recovery. They are ways for people to embrace what they need so they find hope in the midst of the dark spaces in the journey. Integrated treatment encompasses many aspects of treatment that may include:

  • Counseling: allowing people to discuss issues around  SAD so they experience what happened in the context of a safe environment and process the experiences. Individual therapy is key to helping individuals understand the journey they are on and how to move forward
  • Group therapy: treatment for people with SAD and dual diagnosis benefits from helping others who are struggling. Sharing the journey is what being in recovery is all about so everyone can learn from each other and grow stronger in recovery
  • Ongoing support: finding healing with others means seeking professional care on an outpatient basis that provides accountability and support for the long journey ahead. Friends, family, loved ones, and mentors are all great people who can provide support for the journey going forward
  • Psychotherapy: this CBT program can provide support for people in recovery. Treatment in a therapeutic sense means cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or other similar treatments that replace negative thoughts with positive ones  and helps them activate the places they need to help them improve their outlook on life

Supportive Work 

Supportive elements of a treatment and recovery plan are not going to work for everyone. It depends on what treating physicians recommend, along with an individual’s willingness to try new things. Some of the following supportive strategies are one way to move forward in recovery in a healthy way:

  • Get enough rest
  • Take medications
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes every day
  • Engage in activities that bring joy and happiness (hobbies, creative arts, etc)

Many people in recovery with co-occurring disorders and SAD may become isolated from others. They struggle to find hope because they are alone but also afraid and stressed. Professional help is only one part of the larger puzzle for people with co-occurring disorders. Seek help from people who are knowledgeable about these conditions if it seems what is being done is not working or needs to be tweaked. Doctors can often move medication around, switch things up, and try new things to find what works for a person so they begin to feel better. 

Lean Into Help

The hardest thing to do is to lean into support systems and networks. What helps is to find recovery groups that will be there for a person who is struggling. 12-step groups are often a great way to experience hope and help in the midst of the challenges of addiction and dual diagnosis bring. What also helps is talking with others who understand. Meeting with mentors and finding friends who share the journey helps make the experience less isolating and fear-filled. Begin by trying a few groups locally outside of rehab and start making one or two friends who connect with your experiences to see if that helps lessen the challenges being faced through addiction. Joining forces with others will help you to see you are not alone and that your journey is unique but you can face it better when you have others to do it with.

Mental health issues can feel heavy and hard to manage. This, combined with addiction, is a specialty we focus on through therapy, 12-steps, and an integrated approach to care. From detox to the day you leave, we provide an informed approach that looks at dual diagnosis not as a condition, but as a pathway towards healing with the right tools and resources. We believe you can find hope again for recovery here at Burning Tree Main. Call us to get started: 866-287-2877.


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