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Anhedonia and Recovery

Anhedonia is the inability to feel pleasure. It frequently affects people in the early stages of recovery. Recovering addicts often say they feel emotionally flat or numb–neither good nor bad. They don’t enjoy things they used to enjoy. They often pretend to feel emotions they know they are supposed to feel for the sake of fitting in.

Exactly what causes anhedonia depends on the drug, but most drugs work by producing an excess of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is the same neurotransmitter responsible for rewarding certain behaviors. When You quit, there is suddenly far too little dopamine to give you the sensation of reward for doing positive things. Thus, things that used be enjoyable suddenly feel meaningless.

Anhedonia is a problem for several reasons. First, it’s just no way to live. You just sort of drift. You know there are things you should do, but you don’t really care about doing them. You can force yourself to do them, but it’s hard. When you feel emotionally flat, everything just seems pointless, including sobriety and doing the things that keep you sober.

Anhedonia is also a symptom of depression, perhaps the primary symptom. The significance of this depends on your history. Many people struggling with addiction also have a history of depression. You may suddenly feel like you’re back where you started with no way to cope. Feelings of depression often lead to relapse. If depression is new to you, it can be disconcerting to suddenly find yourself emotionally cut off. You are suddenly indifferent toward everything, it seems like it will never end, and you don’t particularly care.

Anhedonia can make the early part of recovery a hard slog. Going into treatment, you may have worried you would never have fun again and anhedonia seems to confirm that fear. It’s difficult to keep doing the hard work of recovery when you feel like you get nothing from it at all.

The good news is that it normally goes away on its own, although it may take months. Your brain has to rebalance itself, ramp up its dopamine production to normal levels, during which time enjoyment should gradually return. If depression has been a problem in the past, you should be receiving treatment for that along with the addiction. Make sure you tell your doctor or therapist what you are feeling. You may benefit from medication or some other intervention for depression.

If you need help for addiction, Gardens Wellness Center can help. We offer medically assisted detox and we are equipped to treat dual diagnoses, including depression. Call us today at 844-325-9168 or email us at to learn more.