Background: Recent data suggest that winter depression (seasonal affective disorder [SAD]) may be a subtype of affective disorder that is closely related to alcoholism. Dawn simulation has been shown in controlled trials to be effective in SAD. The present study examined the effectiveness of dawn simulation in abstinent alcoholics who met DSM-III-R criteria for major depression, or bipolar disorder, depressed with seasonal pattern.
Method: All 12 subjects with winter depression had a history of either alcohol dependence or alcohol abuse according to DSM-III-R and had been abstinent from alcohol for at least 6 months. They also fulfilled criteria for SAD according to Rosenthal and were hypersomnic and drug free. After a 1-week baseline period, the subjects were randomly assigned to a 1-week treatment period at home with either a white 1.5-hour dawn from 4:30 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. peaking at 250 lux or a red 1.5-hour dawn from 4:30 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. peaking at 2 lux. The subjects were told that they would receive daily either a red or a white dawn reaching the same illuminance, an illuminance that would be much dimmer than standard bright light treatment. At the end of each week, the subjects were blindly assessed by a psychiatrist using the Structured Interview Guide for the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale-Seasonal Affective Disorder version (SIGH-SAD).
Results: For the 6 subjects completing the white dawn treatment, the mean SIGH-SAD score decreased from 33.0 at baseline to 15.8 after treatment. For the 6 subjects completing the dim red dawn treatment, the mean SIGH-SAD score decreased from 34.3 to 32.7. The mean post-dawn SIGH-SAD score was significantly lower after the white dawn treatment than after the dim red dawn treatment (ANCOVA with baseline SIGH-SAD as the covariate, F = 12.95, p < .01). Superiority of the white dawn was also found by analogous analyses for the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAM-D) (p < .01) and the SAD Subscale (p < .05).
Conclusion: The present study suggest that dawn simulation may be helpful in decreasing depression in abstinent alcoholics with SAD. Further study is necessary to confirm these preliminary findings and to determine whether dawn simulation might be helpful in preventing relapse in abstinent alcoholics who have SAD.