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Is Alcohol Bad for Seasonal Affect Disorder?

by Michael Phillips

Is Alcohol Bad for Seasonal Affect Disorder?

What is Seasonal Affect Disorder?

Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD for short), winter depression, or winter blues, affects thousands of people every year. Bought on by lower light levels, symptoms can be wide and varied.

What are the symptoms of seasonal affect disorder? have listed common symptoms as

  • lack of energy
  • finding it hard to concentrate
  • not wanting to see people
  • sleep problems, such as sleeping more or less than usual, difficulty waking up, or difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • feeling sad, low, tearful, guilty or hopeless
  • changes in your appetite, for example feeling more hungry or wanting more snacks
  • being more prone to physical health problems, such as colds, infections or other illnesses
  • losing interest in sex or physical contact
  • suicidal feelings
  • other symptoms of depression.

I’ve included the links and would recommend browsing through their website. Sometimes it’s good to know you’re not alone!

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What’s the cure for Seasonal Affect Disorder?

Many , like me, who are prone to depression and/or anxiety struggle particularly in the short, dull days of winter. Yet, there are things we can do to help ourselves. Of course, exercise and healthy foods all have a huge impact on our mental well-being so it’s worth starting there. Talking about it is also helpful…but we’re often not very good at this are we? Light boxes or lamps I’ve found improve my mood. I use this product from Lumie as it looks like a normal lamp in my workplace. But there are also things we need to avoid - and one in particular….alcohol.

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Why is alcohol bad for seasonal affect disorder?

Alcohol is a depressant. states that "Our brains rely on a delicate balance of chemicals and processes. Alcohol is a depressant, which means it can disrupt that balance, affecting our thoughts, feelings and actions – and sometimes our long-term mental health. This is partly down to ‘neurotransmitters’, chemicals that help to transmit signals from one nerve (or neuron) in the brain to another.”

Many reach for a glass of wine, beer or spirits to relax them at the end of a long day. Yet for the millions who are prone to the winter blues it does the exact opposite.

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What about non alcoholic beer / non alcoholic spirits / non alcoholic cider / non alcoholic wine?

Non alcoholic beer, for example, often contains under 0.5% alcohol. In many countries, this is considered alcohol free. And there is a good reason for this - there is so little alcohol compared to volume of liquid that a healthy person just won’t be affected by it. A 2012 scientific study concluded that "even after consumption of unrealistically high amounts of non-alcoholic beer negative forensic implications are not to be expected.”

In other words - it’s ok to drink 0.5% abv drinks if you are struggling with SAD. If you aren’t sure, our alcohol comparison calculator is coming soon. You may be shocked by what it tells you!

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Are non alcoholic beers / spirits / ciders / wines healthy?Non alcoholic beverages are often much healthier for you than their alcoholic counterparts. They usually contain far fewer calories. Of course, filtered water is perhaps the most healthy drink, but let’s face it, most of us want something more.

Does caffeine affect seasonal affect disorder?

I switched to decaffeinated tea and coffee years ago as I found the caffeine increased anxiety and was a migraine trigger. I also avoid most soft fizzy drinks as they contain caffeine also. . Fruit juices contain huge amount of sugar. Squash tends to be rather synthetic. So, for a mental wellness mind-fix, I find myself enjoying a non alcoholic beer or spirit at the end of a day. No increased heart rate, no added anxiety, no worsened mood and a good night's natural sleep.

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Are non alcoholic drinks bad for alcoholics?

The jury is divided on this. Some say that there are too many cues found in non alcoholic beer and other drinks. Others say that it’s given them the ability satisfy their desire in the same way that a fake cigarette might help a smoker. If you are an alcoholic, my advice would be to reach for advice from a specialist in this area before a bottle opener.

Can I drink non alcoholic beer / spirits / cider / wine when on medication?

Always consult your doctor if unsure. There are so many medications out there that it is difficult to state with absolute certainty that all 0.5% and below drinks won’t affect you negatively. A buddy of mine recently went to the doctor and asked if it was ok to drink non alcoholic beer or wine when taking medication for depression. His doctor said that it would be fine. There are reports of some doctors even recommending patients switch to non alcoholic (<0.5%) alternatives.

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What medications are prescribed for Seasonal Affect Disorder?

My buddy was taking Sertraline. Sertaline, like Citalopram, is an SSRI - Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor. Seretonin is our happiness neurotransmitter and an SSRI keeps more of it in circulation. It is often stated that alcohol boosts serotonin in the short term, though a study in 2001 suggested this may not be the case. What it does seem to do is boost dopamine and fool the rest of our body that the alcohol is doing us good. In fact, it’s messing with our heads - big time. Many taking SSRI’s and other medications find that abstaining from alcohol completely improves their moods. They also notice the negative difference when they have an alcoholic drink again. Some have suggested that the issue is not the mix of medication and alcohol, but the toxic mix of alcohol and poor mental health. Either way, if you are struggling with Seasonal Affect Disorder, whether on medication or not, my advice is don’t drink alcohol at all. It’s not worth I when there are now so many great alternatives out there.

How do non alcoholic drinks help?

I don’t know about you, but when I open a bottle of good beer, or pour myself a nice spirit, it feels good. To do this with no ill effects, no messing with medications, and no negative effect on mood has got to be a winner. I'm also more likely to go out socialising if I know that I can drink decent alcohol free drinks.

What alcohol free drinks would you recommend? 

For beer, it's worth starting with the most easily available. For lager, Heineken 0.0 can be found in most places. Likewise, BrewDog's Punk Af and Ghost Ship Alcohol Free  are becoming more visible. For spirits, try Caleno with a Fever Tree Premium Tonic as a refreshing gin alternative, and Stowford Press for cider. Scavi & Ray Sparkling wine also hits the spot though it may be a bit sweet for some. Then I'd suggest having a read through our blogs, reviews and community reviews to find what other drinks might appeal. Conscious that many of you have Amazon Prime, we've provided Buy Online links to those Amazon sells to give you a starting point. You will find the non alcoholic sections in supermarkets and independents getting bigger. Online sites such as Drydrinker and Beerhawk also provide a great service and where we can't find drinks on Amazon we try to link to them. 


SAD is really rubbish and if you are going through this you have my heartfelt sympathy. Speak to someone about it when you can - a problem shared and all that. Get some exercise - even just walking down the road can help. Swap your alcoholic drinks for NABs - you'll never look back. Just remember....Spring is coming! Spring bird 2295436 640

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