Anhedonia – Symptoms, Risks, Therapies and Effective Treatment

Anhedonia, Types, Symptoms, Causes, Risk Factors, and How is anhedonia treated

What is Anhedonia?

Anhedonia is the inability to feel pleasure. It’s a common symptom of depression as well as other mental health disorders. Most people understand what pleasure feels like. They expect certain things in life to make them happy. Maybe you enjoy riding your bike, listening to the sounds of the ocean, or holding someone’s hand. But some people lose the ability to feel joy. The things that once made them content are no longer fun or enjoyable. That’s anhedonia.

Types of Anhedonia

  • Social anhedonia. You don’t want to spend time with other people.
  • Physical anhedonia. You don’t enjoy physical sensations. A hug leaves you feeling empty rather than nurtured. Your favorite foods taste bland. Even sex can lose its appeal.

Anhedonia makes relationships, including those with friends and family members, a struggle. With the reward of enjoyment gone, it’s hard to get motivated to spend time with others. You might turn down invitations and skip events like concerts, parties, and even one-on-one get-togethers because you no longer believe there’s any benefit in taking part. Or you could have social anxiety. You feel like you don’t fit in, especially when meeting new people.

Relationships also thrive on positive feedback, and without it, they can wither: Imagine not being able to tell someone you love them or that you had a great time spending the day with them. But if you have anhedonia, you can’t because you don’t have those feelings.

Meanwhile, loss of libido can take a toll on a romantic relationship. It’s also worth noting that some scientists believe anhedonia isn’t always a black-and-white issue. You might feel no joy at all, or you could find that your positive emotions are dulled. In other words, it’s possible to like still eating chocolate ice cream or listening to jazz; you don’t like those things nearly as much as you used to for reasons you can’t explain.

Anhedonia is the inability to feel pleasure. It's a common symptom of depression as well as other mental health disorders.
Anhedonia is the inability to feel pleasure. It’s a common symptom of depression as well as other mental health disorders.

Symptoms of Anhedonia?

While researchers are still debating whether anhedonia can genuinely be categorized into two main types, some literature suggests that this mental health issue can be divided into social and physical. Social anhedonia is often defined as an increased disinterest in all aspects of interpersonal relationships and a lack of pleasure in social situations. Physical anhedonia is an inability to feel tactile pleasures such as eating, touching, or sex.

The symptoms of anhedonia can include:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Diminished pleasure derived from daily activities
  • A lack of relationships or withdrawal from previous relationships
  • Less of interest in previous hobbies
  • A loss of libido or a lack of interest in physical intimacy

Causes of Anhedonia?

It’s a core symptom of depression and schizophrenia but has also been identified in individuals with chronic pain and Parkinson’s disease[1]. Additionally, it can be caused by substance misuse [2] (like habitually using illegal drugs).

One important note of differentiation: Anhedonia is not the same as social anxiety, categorized as withdrawal from social situations due to a fear of how those situations might go. Individuals dealing with anhedonia avoid social problems because there seems to be no reward or point to participating.

Risk Factors for Anhedonia

If you have been diagnosed with depression or schizophrenia, there is an increased risk of developing anhedonia. Other risk factors include:

  • living with PTSD[3]
  •  from a traumatic event or events
  • a chronic illness that impacts your quality of life
  • an eating disorder [4]

How is Anhedonia Treated?

This illness can be tricky to treat. There’s no clear way to do it. The first step is generally to find any unknown cause, focus on treating that issue, and hope the anhedonia gets better as a result.

That’s often true, especially when it comes to depression. People who take antidepressant medications (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs) may find that anhedonia improves along with the rest of their depression symptoms, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes these medications blunt emotions and make this problem worse.

Scientists are working on new treatments for people with anhedonia who don’t get better with treatments like SSRIs and talk therapy. One that shows promise is ketamine, a medication best known for being a party drug that also has an antidepressant effect. More research is needed, but at least one study found that people with bipolar depression who had anhedonia got relief from this symptom within 40 minutes of a ketamine shot.

Anhedonia can be challenging to treat. In many cases, treatment starts with tools to help you manage the mental health issue that’s likely causing the symptom, such as depression.

Anhedonia is a word that describes a reduced interest in activities an individual used to enjoy, as well as a decreased ability to feel pleasure.
Anhedonia is a word that describes a reduced interest in activities an individual used to enjoy, as well as a decreased ability to feel pleasure.

The first step in your treatment should be seeking the help of a medical professional. A primary care professional should be your first choice to rule out a medical cause of your symptoms. If they don’t find any medical issues, they may recommend you see a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health professional. A primary care professional can refer you to a therapist, or you can ask your insurance company to help you find someone.

Medications and Therapy

Your treatment may include talk therapy, along with prescription medications such as antidepressants. In some cases, other classes of medications may be recommended. Your doctor will help you create a treatment plan that is right for you.

You should take the medication as prescribed and let your doctor know if you have any side effects. They may need to adjust your dosage or medication.

These medications affect people in different ways. Therefore, a medication that works for you may not work for someone else with the same symptoms.

ECT Therapy

Another type of treatment that may be used in some cases is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). ECT is one of the most effective treatments [5] for severe depression that has not been relieved by treatment or medication. Therefore, it should be used sooner rather than later — especially with people who have uncomplicated depression.

During this treatment, a doctor places electrodes on the head and applies an electric current while undergoing the procedure is under general anesthesia. This induces a small brain seizure.

TMS

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) uses a magnetic field to stimulate nerve cells. It uses a smaller electric current than ECT and does not require general anesthesia. TMS can treat major depression [6] in people who have depression that is not responding to medication.

VNS

A third treatment option is vagus nerve stimulation (VNS). Your doctor will implant a medical device similar to a pacemaker in your chest. The wires of this device create regular electrical impulses that stimulate your brain. As with ECT and TMS, VNS can treat depression [7] in people with depression that hasn’t responded to other treatments.

At We Level Up Treatment Center provides world-class care with round-the-clock medical professionals available to help you cope. In addition, we work as an integrated team providing information about anhedonia and other aspects of treatment. Make this your opportunity to reclaim your life. Call today to speak with one of our treatment specialists. Our specialists know what you are going through and will answer any of your questions.

Your call is private and confidential, and there is never any obligation.

Sources

[1] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2769239

[2] https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00311/full

[3] NCBI – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3402136/#:~:text=Symptoms%20of%20anhedonia%2C%20or%20deficits,including%20in%20individuals%20with%20PTSD.

[4] NCBI – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29168305/

[5] https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Treatment/ECT,-TMS-and-Other-Brain-Stimulation-Therapies

[6] NCBI – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6649915/

[7] https://www.aans.org/en/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Vagus-Nerve-Stimulation

pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29168305/