Anhedonia: The Ins and Outs of the Condition
Have you lost joy in activities that you use to be passionate about? Well, you may be experiencing anhedonia. This condition affects millions of people worldwide, yet many of them are not even aware that they have the condition.
The Anhedonia Definition
Anhedonia is defined as a condition where people have lost interest in activities that use to bring them joy and fulfillment. Some refer to it as “emotional flatlining.”
Anhedonia is a core symptom of depression, but not everyone who’s depressed experiences anhedonia. The dead giveaway that someone is suffering from this condition is that particular activity is no longer “rewarding” to them.
For instance, a veteran basketball player suddenly doesn’t care to play the game anymore. It’s rare that someone “naturally” stops enjoying something that they have been doing for years. Thus, something must have occurred for them to suddenly lose interest in playing basketball.
What are the Anhedonia Symptoms
In the medical community, anhedonia is seen as a prominent symptom of major depressive disorder (MDD) and schizophrenia. However, there are many more symptoms attributed to this condition. The following are symptoms associated with anhedonia:
- difficulty adjusting to social situations
- social withdrawal or antisocialism
- persistent physical problems, such as being sick often
- a tendency toward showing fake emotions, such as pretending you’re happy at a wedding
- reduced emotional abilities, including having less verbal or nonverbal expressions
- negative feelings toward yourself and others
- a lack of relationships or withdrawal from previous relationships
- Lack of sex drive or uninterested in physical intimacy
- Experiencing one or more of these symptoms are a clear sign that there’s something wrong.
What are the Causes of Anhedonia?
There are a number of factors that cause this mental condition. Someone experiencing anhedonia may be attributed to family history with depression.
Another factor that may be causing this condition is taking antidepressant medication used to treat depression. (In which is crazy since that’s supposed to prevent depressive symptoms like anhedonia.)
Other factors that elicit the onset of anhedonia are:
- Abusing recreational drugs (e.g., marijuana, LCDs)
- Anxiety or dealing with a large amount of day-to-day stress
- Going through dramatic events (e.g., family death, abuse or neglect)
- Experiencing an illness that affects your quality of life (e.g., stroke)
- Dealing with other mental disorders such as schizophrenia, psychosis, and Parkinson’s disease
- Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa
There are 2 main types of anhedonia people experience are: physical anhedonia and social anhedonia. We shall discuss shortly what they are and how they may come about.
The Anhedonia Test
As with any mental illness, to determine if you have anhedonia, your doctor will evaluate your mental state and general mood.
Here are some sample questions that a doctor would ask to determine this:
- Are you less interested in things or activities that use to bring you pleasure?
- Does sex appeal to you?
- Do you enjoy social gatherings or rather be alone?
- Do you feel emotionally numb?
- Does anything touch you on a personal level? (Family death, seeing a family member get married, etc.)
- Do you still care about things that are supposed to be important to you? (Children, career, friends, etc.)
In addition, your doctor may perform a physical exam to determine if you have any physical problems associated with anhedonia.
The Two Main Types of Anhedonia
There are several types of anhedonia that have been identified by psychiatrists and these include:
- sexual anhedonia
- musical anhedonia
- consummatory anhedonia
- motivational anhedonia
- anticipatory anhedonia
However, the two main types of anhedonia are physical anhedonia and social anhedonia.
Physical anhedonia is when you no longer receive pleasure from physical acts such as eating, sex, or being touched. This type of anhedonia severely affects the following three things:
A lack of wanting to have sex, cuddle or experience any type of physical intimacy with your mate will likely cause a problem.
Family & Friends Relationship
Not wanting to hug relatives or friends may be a problem. They will likely feel like you don’t have a bond with them due to not wanting them to touch you.
Health & Well-Being
Not enjoying food or desiring to eat could lead to unhealthy weight loss. This also weakens your immune system, which leads to getting sick often.
Social Anhedonia is the lack of desire of being in social situations or interactions; being antisocial. This type of anhedonia severely affects the following three things:
Like physical anhedonia, social anhedonia can severely hamper personal relationships. By not expressing how you feel (nor having interest in their feelings) will severe your connection with your spouse.
Family & Friends Relationship
Social anhedonia makes you antisocial and unwilling to adjust to social settings. So socializing or talking with family and friends is not an experience that you want to partake in. Doing this may lead to experiencing a disconnection with them.
Mental & Emotional Health
This condition slowly saps at your mental and emotional health. By bottling up negative feelings that you may hold for yourself or others, this can lead to severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia.
Is Anhedonia a Disease or Symptom?
Anhedonia is not really a disease, but a symptom of a disease(s). It’s what many psychologists look for when diagnosing mental disorders such as:
- post-traumatic stress disorder
- drug abuse
- eating disorders
What Are the Risk Factors Associated With Anhedonia?
There are six major risk factors associated with this mental condition:
Seeks Fulfillment In Risky Activity
People who partake in risky behavior (also called adrenaline junkies) may suffer from anhedonia. These types of people have to perform death-defying, thrill-seeking activities (such as skydiving and bungee jumping) to experience happiness or positive feelings.
Taking Certain Medications
One possible side effect of taking psychiatric medications like antidepressants and antipsychotics is anhedonia. Some people who have taken these drugs start feeling emotionless (or uninterested) towards activities that brought them joy or pleasure.
Substance Abuser of Recreational Drugs
People who abuse recreational drugs (such as heroin and meth) may experience anhedonia.
Even prescription drugs used to treat substance abuse can cause anhedonia. For example, Naltrexone, a synthetic drug used to treat heroin addiction, may cause the condition.
Traumatic or Stressful Life Event
Dealing with a sudden death of a loved one or other traumatic events tend to leave some people emotionless. While some eventually snap out of it and grieve their loss, others continue this behavior for years to come.
Most people are unaware that an eating disorder is not only a physical disorder but a mental one as well. Someone who’s battling with anorexia or bulimia will likely not want to disclose their problem to anyone, especially family and friends.
In the long haul, this may lead them towards isolation or not wanting to socialize with anyone. A report revealed that those with eating disorders get significantly less pleasure from social situations than those without eating disorders.
There has been evidence that’s linked suicide to anhedonia. A study associated the following six risk factors with people committing suicide within 1 year:
- panic attacks
- severe psychic anxiety
- diminished concentration
- global insomnia
- moderate alcohol abuse
- severe loss of interest or pleasure (AKA anhedonia)
If this is true, then it is critical to find an immediate solution to anhedonia.
Anhedonia Treatments That Are Available
Unfortunately, there are no direct treatments for anhedonia. However, since it’s a symptom of a disease, then it may be able to be treated by curing the disease. Thus, you’ll need treatment for the mental disorder that’s causing the symptom, such as depression.
One of the first steps you should take is to contact a reputable doctor who has history treating anhedonia. They should be able to diagnose your illness stemming from the condition. If they don’t find any illnesses, they will probably refer you to a mental health professional. (e.g., psychiatrist)
Anhedonia Cure: Is There One Available?
There are no known cures available for this condition. However, there has been a recent interest in the anesthetic ketamine as a potential anti-anhedonic medication. Ketamine has shown promise as a potential cure for mental disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder.
A study analyzed the effects of ketamine on rats who suffered from anhedonia as well as bipolar disorder. The results suggest that it can help reduce the levels of anhedonia. While human studies need to be conducted to substantiate their results, it is promising to see that a cure for anhedonia may be on the horizon.
The Final Word on Anhedonia
Anhedonia is a mental condition that affects millions, yet is rarely talked about. A lot of people doesn’t even know it exists nor that they suffer from it.
The various risk factors associated with it (e.g., suicide) confirms how deadly anhedonia could be if left untreated.
It is promising news that ketamine may be a cure for it. However, human studies need to be conducted to validate this as an effective treatment or a possible cure for the condition.