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As a premier drug and alcohol rehab in Arizona, one of the issues that many of our clients run into is anhedonia, or the inability to experience pleasure. It’s normal to feel a wide range of emotions when you’re recovering from addiction, as the brain is healing and trying to restore its chemistry. However, some people end up feeling empty.

Anhedonia can make a person feel numb, and it’s a common symptom of depression. However, people who are recovering from addiction often experience anhedonia because of an imbalance within the brain’s reward system. While it is difficult to go through this period, it does get better.

Let’s learn more about why anhedonia happens, its connection to substance abuse and how to overcome it.

What is Anhedonia?

Anhedonia is a term used to describe an inability to feel pleasure from normal activities like food or sex. It’s a common symptom of depression, but it’s also strongly linked to substance use disorders. Some of the symptoms of anhedonia are:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Faking emotions
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of interest in once pleasurable activities
  • No desire for new relationships
  • Lack of empathy for others
  • Avoiding physical or emotional intimacy

Why Do People in Recovery Experience a Loss in Pleasure?

Anhedonia is believed to stem from a problem within the brain’s reward system. When you use drugs or alcohol, they flood the brain with dopamine, which is why they feel so good. As a result, the brain stops making dopamine on its own. Over time, long-lasting changes in the brain’s reward system occur, making it harder to achieve pleasure with normal, everyday activities.

There is also evidence to suggest that anhedonia is involved in the transition from recreational use to addiction, as well as relapse. As the brain grows tolerant to the massive amounts of dopamine being released, it needs more to achieve the same high. This is why it eventually takes more drugs to experience the same euphoria.

In short, when you start the recovery process, your brain has a high tolerance to dopamine, no supply of the chemical and a limited ability to produce it. This leads to anhedonia.

Ways to Overcome Anhedonia

There is no quick fix for anhedonia. It takes time for the brain to recover and to begin producing dopamine on its own. But this doesn’t mean you have to sit in agony and wait. In the meantime, part of your recovery will be getting your heart pumping and increasing adrenaline.

When you activate your fight or flight response, your body begins making adrenaline, an unconscious survival mechanism that elevates your body to a heightened physical state. This will temporarily relieve some of your symptoms while also getting you used to being active. Exercise, as we know, naturally releases feel-good endorphins.

As a trusted alcohol and drug rehab in Prescott AZ, Wolf Creek Recovery places a heavy emphasis on outdoor therapy. We encourage our clients to spend time outdoors where they can practice team building, problem solving and stress-relieving activities. To learn more, contact our treatment team today.