Anhedonia symptoms can be a debilitating condition to live with. But, what are they, exactly?

In this article, you’ll find more about what this condition is, what can cause it and associated risks, along with detailed information on common anhedonia symptoms and how they can impact the lives of individuals who are impacted by the condition.


What is Anhedonia?

Anhedonia is a condition characterised by a reduced ability to experience pleasure in activities that the person would typically find enjoyable. It’s a common symptom of various mental health conditions, such as major depressive disorder, PTSD, and bipolar disorder.

Anhedonia often gets mistaken for apathy, but anhedonia is specific to the loss of pleasure. Apathy, on the other hand, has more to do with losing energy and motivation.

Generally speaking, anhedonia may manifest in two forms. Physical anhedonia is a lack of pleasure in physical sensations, which can include eating, touching, or a reduced desire for physical intimacy, and social anhedonia is a decline in the enjoyment of social interactions and relationships. Individuals with anhedonia often describe a sense of emotional numbness or emptiness, finding it hard to feel joy, excitement, or enthusiasm.

Understanding anhedonia is incredibly important because it’s not just a symptom of depression or other mental disorders. It can also occur in response to extreme stress, trauma (such as with PTSD), or even as a side effect of certain medications.


Common Causes of Anhedonia

There are many causes of anhedonia, which often involve a combination of genetic, neurobiological, psychological, and environmental factors.

Neuroscientific research indicates that anhedonia is linked to dysfunction in the brain’s reward system, particularly in the pathways that involve neurotransmitters (e.g. dopamine).

Psychologically, anhedonia can be triggered by chronic stress, social anxiety, unresolved trauma, or a history of mental health disorders. These experiences can alter brain chemistry and function, leading to a reduced ability to experience pleasure.

Environmentally, factors such as prolonged exposure to stressful conditions, lack of social support, or enduring negative life events can contribute to the development of anhedonia. It’s also seen in individuals with chronic illnesses or those undergoing certain medical treatments that affect brain chemistry, like chemotherapy.

Understanding these causes is vital for effective treatment, as addressing the underlying risk factors now can significantly improve outcomes.


Which Mental Health Conditions are Associated with Anhedonia?

Some of the most common conditions that are associated with having an increased risk of developing anhedonia symptoms include (but are not limited to):

  • Schizophrenia spectrum disorders.
  • Bipolar disorder.
  • Major depressive disorder.
  • Substance use disorder.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


The Common Signs and Symptoms of Anhedonia

The most clear indicator of anhedonia is a significant lack of interest or pleasure in activities that someone used to enjoy typically. This can look like hobbies and social activities to more basic pleasures, such as eating favourite foods or physical intimacy.

Other common symptoms include:

  • Emotional flatness or numbness.
  • Withdrawal from social interactions and activities.
  • Lack of reaction to what are generally considered positive events.
  • Reduced emotional expressions in response to what used to be enjoyable activities.
  • Difficulty in identifying what one finds pleasurable.

It’s important to differentiate anhedonia from the general feeling of sadness or disinterest that can affect anyone from time to time. In anhedonia, these feelings are chronic and persistent and significantly impair someone’s quality of life.


How Does Anhedonia Differ from Depression?

Although anhedonia is a core symptom of depression, it’s distinct in its specific focus on the loss of pleasure. Depression involves a broader range of symptoms, including persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, changes in appetite and sleep, and sometimes thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

An individual with anhedonia may not necessarily feel the same level of sadness or hopelessness but rather an emptiness or lack of joy in life.


How Anhedonia Impacts Lives

Anhedonia can significantly impact how someone functions in their day-to-day life. For example, it can lead to a withdrawal from social activities and relationships, as individuals find less joy in interacting with others.

This loss of interest and pleasure can also, of course, impact someone’s ability to function at work, as motivation decreases. Individuals might also find it hard to start or complete tasks across all aspects of their lives, such as at home, too.

Anhedonia can also affect physical health, as this chronic lack of interest can impact exercise, eating healthily, or engaging in hobbies that previously helped them relax and unwind.


The Risks of Untreated Anhedonia

Here are some key risks associated with untreated anhedonia symptoms:

  • Mental health decline: As mentioned previously, anhedonia is often linked with major depressive disorder and other mental health disorders. So, without treatment, it can actually worsen existing symptoms of depression. This can lead to a more significant decline in overall mental health.
  • Social isolation: Social anhedonia takes away any interest in social activities. This is why it’s common for individuals to withdraw from loved ones.
  • Decline in quality of life: Losing interest in activities can significantly reduce life satisfaction and overall quality of life.
  • Poor performance at work: Anhedonia can remove all motivation and energy, making it difficult for individuals to perform well in their professional lives.
  • Substance abuse risks – In some cases, individuals with untreated anhedonia may turn to substances like alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism, leading to the potential for an addiction to form. In fact, many of those living with addiction experience anhedonia.
  • Physical health problems: Anhedonia has been linked to physical health problems. This can include sleep disturbances, weight changes, or a weakened immune system.
  • Suicidal thoughts: In severe cases, the persistent lack of pleasure and joy can lead to feelings of hopelessness, leading to suicidal thoughts or behaviours. However, suicidal ideation is more commonly found in those living with this mental health condition.


Treatment Options for Anhedonia

Treatment for anhedonia often involves both psychotherapy with a mental health professional and medication. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is commonly used to treat anhedonia, as it’s effective in helping individuals identify and engage in activities they find rewarding, whilst also addressing negative thought patterns that contribute to anhedonia.

Medications, such as certain antidepressants, can also be beneficial for some individuals. These treatments are known to help rebalance the brain’s chemistry, potentially restoring the ability to experience pleasure.

Additionally, lifestyle interventions are also incredibly important. This can look like weekly physical activity, having a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and engaging in mindfulness practices. These factors can all contribute to improving symptoms of anhedonia.


Advice for Those Living With Anhedonia

Here are some tips for coping with anhedonia symptoms:

  • Acknowledge it. Anhedonia doesn’t tend to go away on its own, so acknowledging that it’s a real mental health condition is the first step.
  • Consulting a mental health professional can provide access to appropriate treatments.
  • Maintain social connections, even when it feels difficult. Social interaction is a vital part of recovery.
  • Try to engage in activities that were previously enjoyable to you, even if they don’t seem appealing at the moment.
  • Prioritise things that promote physical and mental well-being to you. This could be anything from trying to get back to your gym routine or getting sufficient rest.
  • Recovery from anhedonia takes time, so, although it’s easier said than done, try to be patient.
  • Remember that anhedonia is treatable, and with the right support and strategies, it’s more than possible to get back to yourself again.

John Gillen - Author - Last updated: January 19, 2024

John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.