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What is the Definition of Anhedonia?

written by: Scott EIlers • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 3/17/2011

Anhedonia refers to a difficulty or total inability to experience joy or pleasure. Individuals with anhedonia no longer enjoy hobbies or activities that were once fun for them. Anhedonia can occur independently or as a component of a psychological disorder such as depression or schizophrenia.

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    Anhedonia Definition

    The literal definition of the word "anhedonia" is "the loss of joy." In medical terminology, the definition of anhedonia is a difficulty or an inability to experience pleasure or to enjoy life. Individuals who are experiencing anhedonia may find that they no longer have any interest in hobbies or activities that once excited them. They may also lose interest in school or work and will frequently stay home, sometimes staying in bed for most or all of the day.

    Anhedonia also tends to result in a lack of interest in social interactions, and individuals who are experiencing this condition often isolate themselves from friends, family members, and loved ones. They may still experience brief, fleeting moments or joy or other pleasant sensations, but they generally find life less exciting or enjoyable than they once did.

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    Anhedonia Definition: What Causes Anhedonia?

    The definitive cause of anhedonia has not been determined, but there are a number of theories regarding its development. One such theory is that the brains of individuals who are experiencing anhedonia have reduced levels of the neurotransmitter known as dopamine, which produces feelings of reward and excitement. Anhedonia can also be caused by withdrawal from a number of drugs, particularly stimulants like methamphetamine or cocaine which affect the chemical makeup of the brain. Those who have engaged in long-term drug use often find it difficult to enjoy life without chemical stimulation. Another theory is that anhedonia is caused by maladaptive thought patterns such as focusing on negative stimuli or negative perceptions of oneself.

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    Which Disorders are Associated with Anhedonia?

    Anhedonia is primarily associated with mood disorders. Depressive disorders such as major depressive disorder and dysthymic disorders as well as the depressive episodes of bipolar disorder may have an anhedonia component, although the specific symptoms experienced with these disorders varies from one individual to the next.

    Anhedonia can also be present in individuals with schizoaffective disorder, schizoid personality disorder, and schizophrenia. It is also possible for an individual to experience anhedonia in absence of any diagnosable form of mental illness, as well as short-term anhedonia related to adjustment disorder which can be caused by major life events such as loss of a job or the death of a loved one.

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    Sexual Anhedonia

    Sexual anhedonia is a recognized subtype of anhedonia that is not associated with any particular mental illness. An individual with sexual anhedonia is physically able to achieve an orgasm but does not experience the pleasure typically associated with it. This condition is more common in men, but can also occur in women. Sexual anhedonia is extremely rare and the exact causes of this condition are unknown. Some causes of sexual anhedonia are believed to be due to various physical injuries, low testosterone levels, or other forms of mental illness related to sexual performance.

    NB: The content of this article about anhedonia definition is for information purposes only and is not intended to replace sound medical advice and opinion.

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