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What is Anhedonia and How Does it Relate to Depression?

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RR ANHEDONIA DEPRESSION 2017

We may use the metaphor of “emotional flatlining:” not feeling the highs but also not feeling lows

Anhedonia is not a disorder by itself, but is listed by the Diagnostic Manual of the American Psychiatric Association as a core symptom of a depressive disorder. As a result, they are often treated together as one condition.

The clinical definition of anhedonia as defined by the DSM states it as a loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable, and a reduced capacity to feel pleasure. Literally, an absence of feeling, emotion, or interest in any area of life that formerly brought joy.

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Anhedonia can be categorized predominantly into two types: physical and social. Physical anhedonia represents an inability to feel physical pleasures such as eating, touching and sex, while social anhedonia describes an incapacity to experience interpersonal pleasure such as love or even finding enjoyment in an interesting conversation.

Other examples cited from Anhedonia Support of emotional flatlining include:

  • Holding your baby and feeling no love or connection at all.
  • Hearing your favorite song and being completely unmoved.
  • Having no desire for, or enjoyment of intimacy even if you can perform physically
  • Not being able to grieve the loss of someone you love.
  • Having no interest or motivation to do anything, including hobbies or activities you used to enjoy.
  • Faking emotions with other people, such as pretending to care when you don’t.
  • Feeling totally flat during special moments such as getting married or watching your favorite sports team win a major championship.
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Causes of anhedonia

Anhedonia is one of the core symptoms of mental disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. It also can occur when people develop severe alcohol and drug dependencies, sourcing their pleasure solely from their addictions. Anhedonia may also be trauma-induced, and has been experienced by people with Post Traumatic Stress disorder. Severe or extended durations of anxiety could also produce anhedonic symptoms.

There is no clear cause for why anhedonia happens, but experts have observed when and have a good understanding of when it likely will, as mentioned in the disorders listed above. There is recorded evidence that when anhedonia is experienced, there is a deficit of activity in an area of the brain called the ventral striatum and suppression of dopamine, as explained by Philip Gorwood, MD, PhD in Neurobiological Mechanisms of Anhedonia.

How does anhedonia affect daily life?

As the main characteristic of anhedonia being that there is a complete absence of positive emotions, people who experience anhedonia for extended periods of time have increased risks of entertaining thoughts of the pointlessness of life and becoming suicidal. It often described as a subtle transition in losing interest in areas of life that used to bring fulfillment, so the passage into a grey life is almost easily accepted as “this is just how life is.”

Anhedonia is defined by a very complete and total loss of interest and no corresponding pleasure at all. A stark portrait of the reality of anhedonia sounds like:

“I continuously had a disturbing underlying feeling there was no point to my life. It all seemed meaningless because I did not enjoy anything, care about anyone, or look forward to anything. I could not feel the slightest bit of love or connection so I had no desire to be with people or even my cat. I could not experience pleasure in any part of my life, so I had no interest in going on vacation, going out to eat, doing my hobbies, getting together with friends, or doing other normally pleasurable activities. There was nothing I wanted to experience, nowhere I wanted to go, nothing I wanted to learn, and no one I wanted to be with. There was no point to anything, so life seemed completely meaningless” (Anhedonia Support).

Managing and overcoming anhedonia

Treating anhedonia is about increasing or re-establishing positive feelings. Self acknowledgement of the problem is always the first step to recovery. In your treatment, you should seek the help of a therapist or trained professional who can listen to your issues and help put you on the path to experiencing joy in life again. Seeking medication for anhedonia may be tempting, but highly advised against just because of the sheer risk of dependence.

Anhedonia is a symptom often paired with major mental disorders, so treating the two together cannot and should not be separated. When dealing with mental disorders, it is always best to examine the physical, social, nutritional, relational, and professional environment as a start to finding the root cause and ultimately healing.

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Did you know an addiction can be caused by a mental disorder?

One of the primary reasons that mental disorders and substance abuse so often go hand-in-hand is that drugs and alcohol can provide an escape from the pressures of mental health problems. Self-medicating is surprisingly common: you’re not alone.

But unlike real, effective, long-term solutions, such as medication and detoxification in a treatment center, drugs and alcohol won’t amount to effective treatment.

If you suspect that your loved one is suffering from addiction, then take our free 3 minute assessment.

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