Anhedonia is a Greek term that means literally “without pleasure.” It is characterized by the inability to experience pleasure or satisfaction, and is a hallmark of depression. It is also associated with some other mental health conditions.
Causes of Anhedonia
Anhedonia is most commonly associated with depression, and for many depressed people, anhedonia is their primary symptom. Anhedonia tends to be self-perpetuating. An avid reader, for example, might suddenly find that she/he gets no enjoyment from reading. He/she then may feel despondent because he/she cannot enjoy previously-enjoyed activities.
While there are several theories about the causes of depression, anhedonia is associated with a problem in the brain’s reward system. Dopamine, a chemical that contributes to feelings of reward or pleasure, may not be present in appropriate quantities in people experiencing this symptom of depression.
In some cases, lifestyle choices can also influence the presence of anhedonia. Problems with procrastination and motivation can contribute to increased anhedonia, although these contributing factors may also have their origins in brain chemistry. Anhedonia is associated with some other mental health conditions, including schizophrenia, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress.
Treatment for Anhedonia
A combination of therapy and psychoactive drugs is usually the most effective treatment for both anhedonia and depression. Medications that alter the way the brain processes rewards are especially helpful with anhedonia. Some people also experience an improvement with lifestyle changes. For example, meditation, dietary changes, and better time management may help some people to experience greater satisfaction in their life.
While selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are the medications of first choice for depression, other medications are also available. Amphetamines such as Dexadrine act on dopamine, and are particularly effective in people who have chronic anhedonia as a result of treatment-resistant depression.
- American Psychological Association. APA concise dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2009. Print.
- Kring, A. M., Johnson, S. L., Davison, G. C., & Neale, J. M. (2010). Abnormal psychology. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Last Updated: 08-4-2015
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