If you have been abusing certain drugs such as cocaine, you may experience life as very grey and flat once you become sober – this is referred to as anhedonia. In the majority of cases, this condition will only last for a short time while your brain adjusts but in extreme cases, it can be much longer lasting. It is important to develop an understanding of what anhedonia is and how it can be treated, as this will allow you to protect your sobriety.
What is Anhedonia?
The word anhedonia comes from ancient Greek and it could be translated into English as meaning ‘without pleasure’. People who have developed this condition find it hard to enjoy life. Even things that would normally be pleasurable (for example, listening to music or engaging in a hobby) can feel pointless and unrewarding. Anhedonia can occur due to a number of reasons, but the two most common are depression (and other mood disorders) and substance abuse.
Anhedonia is particularly associated with drugs such as cocaine. Up until the late 1960s, cocaine was considered an almost harmless substance – it was even once used as an ingredient for Coca-Cola. The experts of the time claimed that cocaine was not addictive, so there was no need for people to quit or get any type of help. This drug became popular with business people and it was only when they started developing anhedonia that people became more concerned about the use of cocaine. These days it is considered one of the most dangerous drugs around, but it is more widely abused than ever.
Cocaine causes anhedonia because of the way it alters brain chemistry. There is a chemical substance in the brain called dopamine; the release of this neurotransmitter stimulates the central nervous system, which is experienced as pleasurable. Your brain has an internal reward system so that when you do something pleasurable, it triggers the release of dopamine. The problem with abusing cocaine is that it conditions the brain to release dopamine in response to using this drug rather than the internal reward system trigger. This means that after you get sober, it can be difficult to enjoy life.
How is Anhedonia Treated?
When you first give up drugs, you might initially find that your mood feels a bit flat. This anhedonia is going to be much easier to deal with once you are aware that it should only be a temporary state. Your brain can once again learn to associate enjoyment with your internal reward system, so within a few weeks, you should find many things give you pleasure (although sometimes it can take a few months before things fully return to normal).
In extreme cases, the anhedonia can be of a more persistent nature. If this is the case, it is understandable that you could lose motivation to stay sober. This is why it is so important to get proper help. It may be that you will require antidepressant medication, at least until your brain chemistry returns to a more normal state.
There are things you can do to speed up your recovery from anhedonia. Getting lots of exercise can be a great help – this does not have to be anything too exhausting; long walks can be a good option. It is also important to eat a balanced diet in case nutritional deficiencies are making the situation worse. Meditation and relaxation techniques can also be helpful for getting your mind back to normal functioning.