Anhedonia Symptoms – Description, Types and Treatments

March 19, 2024
Solace Asia

What Is Anhedonia?

If you are having a hard time feeling happy or finding joy in things you used to enjoy, you might be having Anhedonia. Anhedonia is a common symptom of many mental health conditions.

The term "anhedonia" originates from the Greek words meaning "without delight." Anhedonia is a term used in psychology to describe a diminished ability to experience pleasure or a lack of interest or satisfaction in once enjoyable activities. It is often associated with various mental health conditions, such as depression, schizophrenia, and other mood disorders. Individuals experiencing anhedonia may find it challenging to derive pleasure from activities, relationships, or pursuits that they once found fulfilling.

What Are Different Types Of Anhedonia? 

While researchers continue to discuss the classification of anhedonia into distinct types, certain sources propose that this psychological condition can be delineated as either social anhedonia or physical anhedonia.

Social Anhedonia:

This type involves a reduced interest or pleasure in social interactions and relationships. Individuals experiencing social anhedonia may find it challenging to derive enjoyment from socializing or forming connections with others.

Physical Anhedonia: 

Physical anhedonia is characterized by a decreased ability to find pleasure in sensory and physical experiences. This may include a reduced capacity to enjoy activities such as eating, touching, or engaging in physical recreation.

What Are The Symptoms Of Anhedonia?

Displayed in the table beneath are symptoms associated with this condition, categorized into social and physical anhedonia:

Social Anhedonia

  • Social withdrawal – Isolation
  • Inauthenticity – not showing true emotions such as  pretending to be happy when one is not
  • A lack of relationships
  • Negativity towards self and others
  • Reduced emotional quotient (EQ)
  • Lack of intimacy/no intimacy at all
  • Disinterest in social activities
  • No pleasure in the company of others
  • Being inventive in social situations simply to garner attention and control social situations
  • Social insecurity and feelings of stigmatization and shame

Physical Anhedonia

  • Inability to taste
  • Inability to enjoy any of the senses
  • Inability to derive pleasure from physical activities
  • Low libido
  • No pleasure derived whatsoever from any physical activity such as eating, having sex, exercising, etc
  • Consistently ill/sick such as having a cough, feeling nauseous, and having headaches

Why Is Anhedonia Common In Addiction?

Clinical observations suggest that anhedonia is common in drug addiction. In abusing drugs over a prolonged period, the brain’s reward thresholds have become chronically elevated without a return to baseline levels of abstinence. It has been proposed by Koob and Le Moal that this irreversible impairment, known as hedonic allostasis (a chronic deviation of the brain’s reward set point) is responsible for anhedonia in recovery.

Another study done by Robert Malenka of Stanford University in 2012, found that the nucleus accumbens, which is the brain’s reward system becomes dysfunctional when anhedonia occurs. This happens as a result of dopamine inactivity. 

Be it dopamine inactivity or the actual impairment of the brain’s reward thresholds, it is evident that addiction is responsible for anhedonia. However, many do suggest that inherent anhedonia may have caused some to turn to addiction due to an already predisposed addictive personality.

Therefore, in assessing which came first is somewhat akin to judging whether the chicken or the egg preceded the other. It is a fairly controversial conundrum, yet based on the two studies above, it is evident that addiction is a reason for anhedonia.

What Are The Other Risk Factors For Anhedonia?

If you've received a diagnosis of depression or schizophrenia, your likelihood of developing anhedonia is high. Other risk factors include:

  • Living with PTSD from a traumatic event or events
  • a chronic illness that impacts your quality of life
  • an eating disorder

What Are Different Treatments Available For Anhedonia?

One can get out of this hell-hole of doom and gloom. Recovery is slow, but if one persists in the work needed to get well, there is hope beyond anhedonia. Below are the various ways one can get better and out of this trap in early recovery:

  • Psychotherapy: To beat negative thoughts linked to anhedonia, try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). If you think you can't succeed, find proof of past successes or try new things to show success is possible. Therapy involves both changing thoughts and taking part in activities that encourage positive change.

  • Pharmacological treatments: Sometimes, changing the mind is not enough. Chemical imbalances in the brain contribute to anhedonia. For instance, reduced dopamine in the nucleus accumbens plays a role in early recovery from depression. Medications like Bupropion, psychostimulants, and dopamine agonists target the dopaminergic reward system to address such imbalances.

  • Acupuncture: This traditional Chinese medical practice targets the reward system through the manipulation of meridian points using sterilized needles. It works for those who believe that the body is influenced by the energy forces, known as “qi”.

  • Exercise: Physical exertion is said to be able to produce internal painkillers such as endocannabinoid and beta-endorphin neuro-chemicals. The high after a good workout is usually coined as the “runner’s high” and can take the edge off the daily grime of abstinent living.

  • Meditation and Yoga: Being still in the here and now is the crux of meditation and yoga. Focusing on the breath and doing poses that distract the mind to merely focus on the present has marvelous benefits for the well-being of those going through anhedonia. Instead of dwelling on the futility of existence, one could replace the focus with the present moment.

  • Mindfulness: One product of presentist thinking is the phenomenon of mindfulness. Keeping one’s mind focused on what one is doing presently, be it walking, running, talking, or eating removes the mind from being distracted by anhedonia.

  • Self-compassion: Addicts oftentimes condemn themselves for the slightest mishaps in their early days of recovery. Taking it easy and replacing the condemning self-talk with words of encouragement, love, and understanding helps a great deal to remove the harshness of anhedonia. Having self-compassion also releases the love hormone “Oxytocin” into the system, which in turn gives us room to nurture the tender selves that are undergoing immense change. So the next time anhedonia strikes, say to yourself and hug yourself as you do: “Poor you, it must be difficult going through such a horrible experience. It’s okay and normal to feel this way. Hope you feel better now. Is there anything I can do for you?” You’d be surprised that by having compassion for oneself, we get out of our illness that much quicker.

Can Anhedonia Be Resolved?

Anhedonia is not a permanent state for everyone. Its duration and resolution can vary based on factors such as the underlying cause, treatment received, and individual differences. Anhedonia may improve with appropriate intervention, therapy, and time. Addressing the root causes, seeking professional help, and engaging in therapies or treatments that target anhedonia can be the best practice.

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