Anhedonia: The Loss of Pleasure and Its Relationship to Early Recovery

 In Addiction

The loss of pleasure is a symptom associated with many mental illnesses but is a core symptom of depression. When you have experienced joy before, it can be uncomfortable to lose the ability to feel it. The things that once made you happy and content no longer provide that satisfaction, which can become hard to cope with. This is known as anhedonia. 

Anhedonia is mainly discussed for its association with depression, but many people are unaware that it is a common symptom of early addiction recovery. 

What Is Anhedonia?

Anhedonia is the inability to feel pleasure. It is a symptom closely linked to mental illnesses, most especially experienced by people with depression. Anhedonia symptoms can be both physical and social. 

Symptoms of anhedonia include:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of interest in things that used to bring you a sense of fulfillment or pleasure
  • Less verbal and nonverbal engagement
  • Faking emotions
  • Avoiding physical and emotional intimacy
  • No interest in maintaining current relationships or making new ones

Social Anhedonia

Social anhedonia is the loss of pleasure from being around others. It can become difficult to maintain close relationships because that sense of happiness with them is no longer present. People who experience social anhedonia begin to lose motivation to be around friends. They may find themselves skipping out on social outings or even one-on-one interactions. Their brain’s reward system is no longer triggered when they interact with people. 

Not only does this impact attending social events, but also how people interact with others. If someone with social anhedonia is having a conversation with someone, that other person is looking for a sense of reward as well. They may find it hard to maintain their end of the conversation and not respond in ways that satisfy the other person. They may not laugh at a joke they told or don’t express enjoyment over the time spent together. It can be hard for other people to understand because sufferers may truly not enjoy the time spent, which can impact the dynamic of a relationship.

It can also impact familial relationships. As a parent, spending time with your children can feel like a chore when you have this symptom. Children who experience this symptom may hide themselves away, which can be hard for their parents. In all cases, anhedonia is difficult to understand and can negatively affect family relationships just as much as ones between friends.

Physical Anhedonia

A person can also experience physical anhedonia: a lack of physical pleasure. They no longer enjoy the physical sensations like touch or being hugged and it offers no sense of feeling nurtured. Even sex can lose its allure and they may feel turned off from it completely. For those in a relationship, this can take a toll on the partner who does crave intimacy and can negatively impact the relationship.  

This can also feed into social anhedonia because people don’t want to be physically touched. Even simple acts of touch will make them disinterested in situations that would potentially involve physical touch. 

What Causes It? 

Although anhedonia is a core symptom of depression, it is not limited to this one disorder. It can also be linked to:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Anxiety or social anxiety
  • Eating disorders
  • Health-related issues
  • Trauma, abuse, or neglect

Although it is unclear what exactly causes anhedonia other than its relation to mental illnesses, scientists hypothesize that a few different things cause it. One such thought is that it is caused by changes in the brain. Your brain’s reward system might have issues producing dopamine, which is a known issue often found in those with substance use disorder. 

Anhedonia in Early Recovery

In the beginning stages of recovery, it is possible to experience the loss of pleasure as the body begins to adjust to substances leaving the body. As people undergo both the physical and mental transition into sobriety, they can also develop mental health changes. It can also be a precursor to relapse because as the person adjusts to the new changes of sobriety, the feelings of anhedonia may trigger them to use substances again. Since substance use and mental illnesses are closely related, it is important to find a treatment that addresses both issues. 

Anhedonia can potentially lead to substance use as a person tries to cope with the loss of pleasure and enjoyment they try and find ways to cope. Because there is a loss of interest in their normal daily activities, they may try to engage in more risky and experimental behaviors like recreational drugs. These high-risk activities may be able to bring a small sense of pleasure, and lead to consistent use instead of seeking help.

Going through life with the inability to feel any sense of pleasure through social interactions and physical touch can make it hard to find the motivation for daily activities. Anhedonia can feed into depression by magnifying the symptoms and drive you deeper into this low mood. Although there is no specific treatment for anhedonia itself, you can tackle it through treatment for depression or any other health issue causing this symptom. At Mountain Peak Recovery, we have programs that specifically treat the dual diagnosis of substance use disorder and other issues. If you feel like you have been experiencing a loss of pleasure due to depression or other mental health issues, treatment is the best option to help you recover. We can help you tackle your substance abuse and mental health issues by consulting with you on what programs will be best for your needs. Call us at (801) 824-8829 to get started on your recovery now. 

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