Are Californians Safe from Seasonal Affective Disorder?

by Balboa Horizons | January 7, 2019

A seasonal analysis of drug overdose deaths in major California metropolitan areas

The holiday season is here! Regardless of your heritage, familial traditions or religion, the final months of the year are a chance for us to get together with our loved ones to celebrate. For many, this time of year is cause for worry, and can trigger anxiety and depression, two unfortunately common factors contributing to drug and alcohol addiction.

We’ve found that in most states across the US, the approach of winter is a catalyst for drug overdoses. Seasonal affective disorder is at least partially to blame in most states, especially those in the south, which are closer to the equator and less accustomed to the seasonal reduction in sunlight. Sunlight or UV light exposure are known to be a promising treatment for this disorder, but some parts of the US are warm and sunny year round. Do addicts in those places experience the same seasonal motivators for increased drug abuse?

Well, the answer is yes and no. California is the home of our treatment facilities, so we took a look at the Center for Disease Control & Prevention’s data on California drug overdoses between March 2012 and February 2016. While this data is unavailable in the majority of counties in California, the largest metropolitan areas are available.

Now, something we should point out: California has one of the lowest drug overdose rates in the country, due in part to it being home to the United States’ largest population. Californians as a whole are still most susceptible to drug overdoses during winter. And that is true for Orange County, which experienced about 26.5% of its overdoses in winter within our four-year time frame.

The results for the other counties we analyzed were surprising. Take a look for yourself:

Drug Overdose Deaths in California Rate Between 2012-2016

Bolded Percentages Indicate the Most Deaths in a Given Season

Orange County was the only county that followed the trend of the majority of overdoses occurring during winter. Five other counties all experienced the largest number of overdoses during summer, and Alameda and San Diego counties fell within spring.

To find this data, we collected the number of drug overdose-related deaths in each county in California, and looked at those numbers on a month-by-month basis to identify the seasons in which each death occurs.

Despite California as a whole being most susceptible to winter overdoses, it appears that in most of California’s largest metro areas, summer is responsible for the majority.

We also wanted to get an idea of the normal overdose rate of these counties compared to California as a whole, which had a rate of 11.2 of every 100,000 residents in 2016. This is well below the national average in 2016, at 19.8.

Here’s what we found for the same counties:

Drug Overdose Rate Per California County

Kern County, with a population of just over 893,000 in 2016, has the highest rate; however, it is home to the smallest population of our selected counties.

Los Angeles County, on the other hand, is home to a population of over 10 million in 2017. That adds up to over 800 drug overdose deaths that year alone.

Urban or rural, north or south, the holidays are a time for unity and support. If you know someone suffering from drug or alcohol addiction, or are yourself, an addiction treatment center like Balboa Horizons can help. Contact us any time to learn more about our approach, treatment options, and availability: (866) 316-4012