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What is Anhedonia?

By Amy Hunter
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Anhedonia is the medical term used for the inability to feel pleasure. People who suffer from this condition are not able to take joy from the most pleasurable activities. A person suffering from it cannot force himself to feel pleasure, or to enjoy any activity. The only treatments are to wait for the symptoms to subside, which may take weeks or even months, or to seek medical intervention.

Anhedonia is a symptom of several diseases. It is a common symptom of both depression and schizophrenia. People who are chronically sleep deprived may develop it as well. People who abuse drugs, particular stimulants such as cocaine or methamphetamine, may develop it during withdrawal, and depending on how severe the drug problem was, may suffer from the condition for a long time after becoming sober. Some long time drug abusers find it to be a lifelong problem.

Researchers do not fully understand the reason for anhedonia. The body may develop problems processing rewards. People suffering from this condition may not process dopamine properly. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for feelings of joy and pleasure.

It is important to take symptoms of anhedonia seriously. While it is normal to experience periods that are frustrating or stressful, the absolute inability to feel pleasure signals deeper concerns. It is easy to dismiss these feelings because pleasure is not always seen as a necessity. The main problem with this condition is that it signifies a deeper health concern, and can have many undesirable long term effects.

Treatment depends on the severity of the symptoms, as well as other issues. Someone with a long history of drug use will require different treatment than a new mother suffering from postpartum depression. Treatment methods include cognitive behavior therapy, counseling, and medication.

It may take more than one type of treatment to ease the symptoms of anhedonia. The symptoms may not disappear immediately or permanently either. The symptoms will probably subside gradually with treatment, and it is common for the road to recovery to include moments of joy followed by other periods of time where the anhedonia settles in again.

Anhedonia is difficult for many people to talk about, because it seems indulgent. It is difficult to compare someone's trouble feeling pleasure with a person that has cancer or a broken arm, but all of these people are ill and require treatment. Just as a physical illness cannot be ignored, it is important that a medical professional treat symptoms of anhedonia promptly.

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Discussion Comments
By anon162379 — On Mar 23, 2011

I know someone who I believe to be anhedonic, but I also think it has gone past that to a psychosis. This person only seems to enjoy hearing of others in dire straits. There is no steady mood from one moment to the next. Offensive and abusive language and acts of violence are very commonplace.

Situations are always described with little or no basis in the reality and always with an extremely dark overtone. It certainly seems to be more than anhedonia to me.

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