Drugs and alcohol interact with the brain’s reward circuit, which normally helps you experience pleasure from healthy rewards like eating, socializing, listening to music, or having sex. With chronic substance use, the brain adapts by lowering dopamine receptors and diminishing the reward system’s sensitivity.
This is why in early recovery, some people experience anhedonia, the inability to experience pleasure. Coming off certain substances can also make you feel fatigued, potentially exacerbating the problem.
Anhedonia in Recovery is Temporary
This feeling isn’t permanent. It will fade as your brain heals and you spend some time getting used to sobriety. Besides your brain perhaps being less likely to experience pleasure at this time, you are going through a big change. It can be overwhelming, especially when you’ve lost your usual coping tools.
I was exhausted and lacked motivation for about the first two and a half months of sobriety. In part this was substances leaving my system, but I was also likely experiencing anhedonia. After this, there were a few weeks where I was in a “pink cloud”—an experience some people have in early sobriety where they are ecstatic and on top of the world. Once I was out of the pink cloud, I started to build a life in sobriety, and it’s been an incredible experience. While the anhedonia is hard and it’s okay to struggle, it doesn’t last.
Working With Your Energy Levels
Two things that helped me tremendously in those couple of months were getting into nature and socializing. Every weekend for the first several months of sobriety, I combined the two in weekly hikes with a friend. It energized me to be outside and feel like a part of the larger world.
Spending time with friends also gave me energy—although I tend to feel this way from socializing. If you are more of an introvert, lean into the things you know do this for you. Perhaps that’s taking walks, reading (you might spend this time learning about recovery!), or whatever works for you.
That said, it’s important for everyone to have support and human connection. It’s all about finding a balance that won’t make you feel depleted while you ride out anhedonia during early sobriety.
Depression and Anhedonia
If the feeling persists for longer than a few months, you might speak with a mental health professional. Anhedonia is also a symptom of depression. A professional can help you figure out whether that’s the case for you and get you on the proper treatment plan if necessary.
Give it Time
While your brain and body heal from substance use, go easy on yourself. You are making a big change. You won’t always feel this way—you will have time to do all the things you want to do in recovery.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is help and hope. Amatus Recovery Centers offers high-quality treatment for mental health disorders and addiction in facilities across the country. Our staff—many of whom are in recovery themselves—will help you build a great life in recovery. To learn more, call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.