A World Without Pleasure in Addiction Recovery Is A Grey Place Indeed!
A world without pleasure is a grey place indeed! Without this emotion, life become monotonous and there doesn’t seem to be much point in doing anything. Day to day living becomes an uphill endurance race with weights around your ankles and there is no motivation to try to change and improve things. The inability to experience pleasure means that life can feel pointless and that is not a satisfying or necessary form of existence. It is a particularly dangerous way to feel if people are trying to recover from an addiction or are currently still in active addiction. If there is no pleasure in recovery or whilst trying to get into recovery, there is no point in staying away from alcohol and drugs, or that’s the way it may seem anyway!
What Is Anhedonia?
Anhedonia is defined as a loss of capacity to experience pleasure. This inability to enjoy pleasurable things is associated with a number of mental health problems including depression. The word anhedonia comes from ancient Greek and means without delight. The individual who is experiencing this condition will find that their life is emotionally empty and meaningless without having drugs and/or alcohol in it to make them feel “normal” again, in a state where they are able to feel pleasure and enjoyment again, even if it is just temporary.
Types of Anhedonia
It is possible to divide anhedonia into different types:
- Motivational Anhedonia – means that the individual has no desire to engage in enjoyable activities.
- Consummatory Anhedonia – means that the individual does not get enjoyment from the actual activity that would normally be considered enjoyable.
- Sexual Anhedonia – refers to a situation where a man ejaculates but receives no sense of pleasure from this. Women can also have a similar problem with receiving pleasure during their orgasm.
Symptoms Of Anhedonia
The symptoms of anhedonia can include:
- The individual experiences a flat mood all the time They may describe this by saying that they feel nothing
- They have little motivation to do things This is due to a lack of variation in mood
- There is no positive reward for doing things Even if they were offered a reward that they would have otherwise found pleasure or joy from
- The individual may have a loss of sex drive
- The person no longer gets enjoyment from activities that they were once finding enjoyable
Causes Of Anhedonia
There are a number of possible reasons why people may develop anhedonia, including:
- One possible reason why people may develop anhedonia is as a result of social learning. This means that the individual has learnt to associate certain experiences with lack of pleasure. This could mean that the person has learnt to identify life away from addiction as being without pleasure.
- It is suggested that the brain of those who are dealing with anhedonia are functioning abnormally. In particular the parts of the brain that deal with mood changes, empathy and pleasure/reward signals.
- It may also be that those who are suffering anhedonia have difficulty processing happiness. This is due to problems with the brain’s internal reward system.
Anhedonia As A Symptom Of Mental Illness
Anhedonia is a symptom of a number of mental health conditions including:
- It is frequently associated with addiction. It is a common symptom that people experience during withdrawals or recently after becoming abstinent and getting into recovery.
- It is a core symptom of depression
- Post partum/postnatal depression is where a mother is unable to get pleasure from his/her newborn baby.
- Bipolar disorder
Dangers Of Anhedonia In Recovery
Anhedonia is a fairly common symptom for those people in early recovery. It is most often associated with the withdrawal stage when the individual initially gives up alcohol or drugs but it can persist for longer. The dangers of anhedonia in recovery can include:
- If the individual is unable to experience pleasure in recovery they will not see any point in staying clean/sober. Their existence may feel more miserable than their life in addiction and may not appreciate what they have gained and only concentrate on the losses.
- In order to be successful in recovery the individual will need to be highly motivated. Those who are dealing with anhedonia will struggle to develop any type of real motivation for anything.
- Those who are attending rehab or community based drug and alcohol service will be expected to absorb a good deal of knowledge to help them cope in the outside world. If they are dealing with anhedonia they may struggle to absorb any information or if they do, may not know how to apply it in the right situations to stay abstinent.
- Even if they somehow manage to stay clean/sober, their life will remain unsatisfying until they overcome their anhedonia.
- Pleasure is a vital component of the internal reward system, it helps people grow and learn. If the individual is unable to experience rewards, they will fail to make any progress or even go backwards.
- Those individuals who are dealing with post acute withdrawal symptoms may have to deal with anhedonia for a year or longer. It is going to be a real struggle for them to remain abstinent long enough to get over their anhedonia in recovery.
- If the individual relapses as a result of their anhedonia, they may have lost their only chance at sobriety. The fact that their time in recovery was miserable will dissuade them from making any further attempts again or attempt to carry on their current trial of recovery.
- Persistent anhedonia in recovery may be a sign that the individual has a dual diagnosis such as a mental health condition as well as addiction. Unless they get this other mental health problem dealt with the symptom may persist. Don’t panic though, approximately 50-60% of addicts also have co-occurring mental health conditions.
How To Deal With Anhedonia In Recovery
If people are dealing with anhedonia in recovery, there are likely to be things they can do to improve the situation including the following:
- Knowledge about anhedonia can be a great help to those who are struggling with this symptom. They will learn that it does not mean that they will feel this way forever and that there are treatment options. You may need constant reminders of this but recovery from anhedonia can and do recover!
- Those people who develop persistent anhedonia may be suffering from depression or some other type of mental health condition. You may want to visit your GP or local drug and alcohol service to see what they do combined to help which may include therapies, medication or others.
- It is important that those who are struggling with anhedonia seek medical advice as soon as possible. Failure to deal with the problem as early as possible will be putting their sobriety at risk and may become more difficult to get rid of further down their road to recovery.
- It is suggested that regular physical activity can help the individual overcome this symptom. The worst thing that the individual can do is isolate themselves from others and become inactive.
- Practices such as yoga may be of benefit to people who are dealing with this type of problem.
- Just going for walks in nature can be of value to the individual who is dealing with