How to Avoid Using Substances to Cope With Seasonal Affective Disorder

How to Avoid Using Substances to Cope With Seasonal Affective Disorder

Recovery from substance abuse is challenging at any time of year, but it can be especially discouraging during the long winter months. We often forget just how much impact natural light has on our overall mood until the days become shorter and cloudiness is the new norm. Increased feelings of sadness during this season are such a common phenomenon that it has a name: seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Those in recovery from substance abuse may already have depression. Seasonal depression, on top of that, can potentially increase the risk of relapse. Fortunately, support is out there. Learning about healthy resources can help you cultivate healthy coping strategies that don’t involve alcohol or drugs.

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

SAD functions similarly to clinical depression. The symptoms – pervasive feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and lack of energy for longer than two weeks – can overlap. For most people, the onset of symptoms happens during autumn and worsens after Daylight Savings time, when the days contain less sunlight. Symptoms can naturally dissolve on their own come spring, but the months leading up to that change in season can feel long and begrudging.

Other symptoms of SAD include losing interest in activities you once enjoyed, disrupted sleep, and sometimes suicidal thoughts. People in recovery from addiction may experience an increased temptation to use substances during this period.

The Link Between Seasonal Affective Disorder and Substance Abuse

It’s quite common for people experiencing addiction to have a co-occurring mental health disorder. The most common mental health disorders include anxiety and depression, which can be an underlying cause of substance use as a means of “escaping” negative emotions. Using substances as a coping mechanism for depression can train the brain to rely on those chemicals to feel better, altering the pleasure center to lose interest in other activities. When the effects wear off, it will require higher amounts of drugs or alcohol to reach that place of pleasure again. This is how addiction develops.

SAD and substance abuse can go hand in hand, though they do not have to. While the correlation between SAD and substance abuse exists, there is no definitive proof that one causes the other. These conditions are more likely to affect people who are already predisposed, either through genetics or their environment.

Building Resilience While Coping With SAD in Recovery

It’s a two-fold battle to simultaneously deal with SAD and substance abuse recovery. Don’t beat yourself up for struggling more during this season – you are far from alone! Here are a few suggestions to prioritize recovery during these literal dark days.

Attend Recovery Meetings

Local 12-Step meetings can be constructive for building community and finding encouragement. Chances are, you will not be the only person struggling harder with recovery during the winter months. This is an opportunity to talk with others who share that same experience.

Meet With a Mentor or Sponsor

Most 12-Step groups have a sponsor or mentorship program where you can meet one-on-one outside of group meetings for individual help. These mentors or sponsors are often further along in their recovery journey and can offer encouragement, accountability, and advice.

Practice Healthy Self-Care Habits

You’ll want to be especially kind to yourself during the winter season. Make sure you’re eating well, getting plenty of exercise, and getting outside when you can. The sun is still present even on cloudy days, and a little bit of natural light is better than none at all.

Holistic Seasonal Affective Disorder Treatment

The most common treatment for depression is antidepressants. These medications are an effective solution for managing depression symptoms for some, though not everyone responds well to them. Some antidepressants cause unpleasant side effects in certain people, which your doctor should explain before prescribing them. These side effects can include weight gain, insomnia, and a loss of libido. It often requires tinkering with the dosage or changing medications more than once to find the proper regimen.

These medications can correct chemical imbalances in the brain but aren’t a permanent solution. That’s why Enlightened Solutions believes in developing healthy coping mechanisms along with holistic treatments that can be easily integrated into your lifestyle. There is no prescription needed for healthier life choices. Many people who have had little luck with prescription drugs find renewed hope and solid answers in our treatment program. The natural healing path may not be for everyone, but we believe it is the most effective.

Natural Treatments for SAD in Recovery

We offer a variety of treatment methods for depression, anxiety, and substance abuse that are natural and sustainable. While we are not against using medications, we discourage relying on them as the primary way of changing negative thought and behavior patterns. Instead, we recommend a combination of herbal supplements, experiential therapies, acupuncture, and more.

We believe that true clarity and peace are possible when the body is free of as many unnatural chemicals as possible. This is part of our comprehensive “whole-person” approach. Being unwell in the body leads to unwellness in the mind and spirit. Our treatment methods aim to heal you completely rather than specific parts and pieces. We teach our clients to find solutions within themselves, which are free to access at any time, without a prescription or the need for insurance. With this approach, unwanted side effects can be avoided.

Recovery from substance abuse is hard, and the dark days of winter certainly don't make it any easier. If you struggle harder with depression and the temptation to relapse once you turn the clocks back, you are not alone. At Enlightened Solutions, we offer a variety of natural and sustainable treatments for co-occurring disorders, including mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, substance use disorder, and more. Whether you need to detox from drugs or alcohol or a rehabilitation program specific to your situation, we are here to help. If you're struggling with SAD, addiction, or both, please call us today at (833) 801-LIVE and speak with our knowledgeable, compassionate staff to learn about your options. 

What to Never Mix with Alcohol

What to Never Mix with Alcohol

You may be familiar with certain medicine labels that tell you not to mix this medication with alcohol. The American Addiction Center says that more than 55% of people mix over the counter medication with alcohol. By learning about the different substances that should never be mixed with alcohol, you will not have to deal with negative health consequences that may occur as well as masking the effects of the medication.

Energy Drinks

Mixing caffeine with liquor may give you a lot of energy and lessen the effects of alcohol, but this will only make you continually drink more alcohol. The Centers for Disease Control says that mixing energy drinks with alcohol will make you binge drink more and commit reckless acts such as driving under the influence, engaging in unprotected sex, and getting into violent fights.


Drinking alcohol while under the influence of marijuana can enhance THC which is the main psychoactive ingredient of marijuana. Liver metabolizes one substance at a time with alcohol being metabolized first. This will not give your body enough time to metabolize the marijuana and will continue to stay in your system for hours. This unhealthy combination can also lead to a higher risk of dehydration since alcohol and marijuana are both diuretics. Other risks can include increased anxiety, hallucinations, and liver and kidney disease.

Pain Relief Medication

Over the counter pain relief medication like Tylenol, Ibuprofen, and Aleve can lead to serious consequences over time with symptoms like nausea, ulcers, stomach bleeding, rapid heartbeat, and liver damage. Once alcohol and these medications are mixed, your liver will use all of its energy to process everything going into your body at once. This will give you a better chance of having liver damage over time compared to those who do not mix medications with alcohol.


Painkillers like Demerol, Vicodin, Percocet, and Fentanyl have the power to kill people all by itself. Once these painkillers are mixed with alcohol, the results can be lethal. The American Addictions Centers say that this deadly combination can lead to having trouble breathing, severe drowsiness, dizziness, impacted motor functions, liver damage, and an increased chance of an overdose.

Sleeping Pills

While it is important not to drive or operate heavy machinery when you are on sleep medication like Ambien, but you should also not be mixing this medication with alcohol. The short-term effects may include dizziness, drowsiness, impaired motor skills, and having trouble with breathing and memory. Long-term effects can include liver damage as well as developing an addiction to the sleeping pills itself.


The combination of cocaine and alcohol can create the chemical Cocaethylene which can pose great problems to your long-term health. While this chemical enhances the high that alcohol and cocaine can give you, this high also leads to high blood pressure, irritable thoughts, and bad judgment. Toxic levels in your liver will increase as well as the chances of having a sudden death.


LSD, Ketamine, and mushrooms are hallucinogens that can cause negative effects to the body like vomiting, diarrhea, aggression, cardiac arrhythmia, and brain damage. Alcohol has a tendency to elevate these risks. This can lead to immediate dehydration as well as cancer and a weakened immune system in the long-term.


Mixing alcohol with antidepressants like Zoloft, Prozac, Wellbutrin, Effexor, Lexapro, and Marplan will result in dangerous symptoms. This can mean that the results your antidepressants are supposed to show will not work. This will make your symptoms even harder to treat. This might cause you to take more pills to achieve a desired effect. While alcohol may make you feel good, it will only be temporarily and the effects of your anxiety and depression will increase. If you take monoamine oxidase inhibitors like Marplan or Nardil, be sure not to take them with red wine or beer or your blood pressure will spike.

Mood Stabilizers

Mood stabilizers like Lithium are powerful drugs on their own as they are able to treat bipolar disorders and manic depression. Your mental state will be in danger if you mix these mood stabilizers with alcohol. Alcohol tends to clash with lithium in order to regulate the production of neurotransmitters to feel stable. The problem is that alcohol causes the brain to make even more dopamine and those on mood stabilizers do not need any more of it. It is also possible to experience drowsiness, dizziness, tremors, muscle pain, and liver damage.

ADHD Medication

If you are on medication to treat ADHD like Adderall, Concerta, Ritalin, Strattera, or Vyvanse, the mixture of it with alcohol can cause insomnia, increase your blood pressure, and cause seizures and heart problems. ADHD medications alone can give you heart problems as your heart rate and breathing problems can be the effects of the medications which lead to irregular heartbeats and heart palpitations. Bringing alcohol into the mix will cause arrhythmias, increased blood pressure, and an accelerated heart. This can increase your risk of suffering from a stroke or heart attack.


Antibiotics like Flagyl will cause severe nausea and vomiting when mixed with alcohol. The University of Michigan says these two substances should not be mixed up to three days after a full round of antibiotics have been consumed. By not mixing medication with alcohol, the effects of your pills will work to treat physical and mental symptoms that the medication is meant for without dangerous side effects.

Located on the shore of Southern New Jersey, Enlightened Solutions is a recovery center that uses evidence-based therapies and holistic healing to treat addiction and mental illness. With the opportunity to learn about therapies that are keyed in to healing the human spirit and learning about new stress reducing techniques centered around a 12 step network, you will be ensure a lasting recovery. For more information, please call us at 833-801-LIVE as we are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.