Anhedonia is a psychological condition that is characterized by an inability or reduced ability to experience pleasure in normally pleasurable acts, and is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as “markedly decreased interest or pleasure in almost all activities.” It is generally considered a symptom, not a primary condition. Several theoretical conceptualizations of major depressive disorder (MDD) have highlighted anhedonia as a core characteristic of the disorder. It can also occur as part of other conditions (e.g., schizophrenia, psychosis, Parkinson’s disease, anorexia nervosa, substance use disorder, chronic pain, etc.) and may even play a role in an individual’s desire to indulge in risky behaviors.
Many studies divide anhedonia into two categories, and although correlated, each describe deficits in different kinds of pleasure and have distinct symptoms. Anhedonia is typically categorized into the following two types:
- Social anhedonia: describes a decreased interest in all aspects of interpersonal relationships and a lack of pleasure in social situations. Common symptoms of social anhedonia may include the following examples:
- Lack of interest in forming new relationships
- Self-imposed social isolation
- Inability to feel empathy or compassion toward oneself or others
- General negative feelings about others and oneself
- Reduced motivation to pursue relationships, make social plans, or engage with others
- No desire to be emotionally or sexually intimate
- Social anxiety
- Withdrawal from previous relationships
- Physical anhedonia: an inability to feel tactile pleasure from physical aspects of life (e.g., eating, smelling, physical touch, intimacy, etc.). Common examples of symptoms associated with physical anhedonia may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- A complete loss of libido or reduced interest in sexual interactions
- Diminished enjoyment in physical sensations
- No longer finding pleasure in tasting food
- Frequent physical health problems or illness
Although the precise mechanisms in the brain that induce anhedonia remain unknown, scholars do have some theories. Some experts explain that anhedonia stems from an impaired underlying reward mechanisms which involves alterations in levels of interest, motivation, anticipation, expectation, and effort prediction, all of which are processed by different but overlapping neural circuits. Other theories consider the role of neurotransmitter imbalances. A reduction in dopamine (neurotransmitter associated with one’s reward center and feelings of pleasure), has been found to correlate with increased severity of anhedonia. Additionally, gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) an inhibitory neurotransmitter, glutamate (an excitatory neurotransmitter), and serotonin (a monoamine neurotransmitter) may also play a part in the pathophysiology of anhedonia. For instance, people with major depressive disorder who also have pronounced anhedonia are often found to have reduced GABA levels.
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The information above is provided for the use of informational purposes only. The above content is not to be substituted for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment, as in no way is it intended as an attempt to practice medicine, give specific medical advice, including, without limitation, advice concerning the topic of mental health. As such, please do not use any material provided above to disregard professional advice or delay seeking treatment.