Behavioral Recovery in Rehab: Anhedonia

Regardless of what chemical you were using, in early recovery you will feel many changes of mood and behavior, some of them quite disturbing. This is more likely to happen while withdrawal is still having some effects.

Good treatment programs expect these and are structured to deal with them. Nevertheless, it’s helpful to be aware of the possibility of such changes and to recognize them as part of a translation to a healthier state rather than as signs of fundamental problems or long-term difficulties.


The boredom or anhedonia of methamphetamine (“meth”) and cocaine withdrawal is one of the most noticeable of all these early recovery mood swings. You feel depressed and empty, and this can happen when you stop taking almost any drug. This is partly because you may feel that you have just given up the only thing that for years has provided any pleasure. Furthermore, when you’re not able to feel pleasure, it’s difficult to imagine that would give you pleasure; it’s even harder to motivate yourself to try to find something new that will.

It’s a little like the way you feel right after breaking up a really serious love affair; you can’t imagine a person who could make you feel the same, or even imagine that it is possible to fall in love again. In the beginning, you may have to do what self-help groups recommend to people who have trouble believing in a higher power: just start acting “as if.”

Pick an activity or make a plan and start doing it as if you are going to enjoy it.

Try to remember (or ask someone close to you to remember for you) something that you once enjoyed before you became chemically dependent. Nothing may appeal to you at first; the very idea of trying to enjoy yourself may even turn you off.

And even when you make yourself do things, you may not feel great pleasure at first. But it will be much better than slumping into a chair and letting depression take over.

If you keep at it, you will suddenly surprise yourself by actually having a good time.

Combat Maladaptive Behavior

To help combat boredom, depression and anxiety, you need activity that replaces not only drug taking but all the time-consuming business that goes with it. When you’re not occupying yourself most of the day and night with drug seeking, drug taking, recovering from hangovers, trying to scrape money together, time may seem to hang heavy. You may not yet be in physical or emotional condition to engage in anything very demanding such as a course in a foreign language or remodeling, or any of the satisfying and useful activities you may seek in later recovery. Start simply, with something that can hold your attention while making only minimal emotional demands on you.

Most of all try to recognize that if you are suffering boredom or depression, that’s not because it is the nature of life in general or your life in particular. It’s not permanent or inevitable.
Give it a label: call it anhedonia. Anhedonia is similar to some symptoms of major depressive disorder; anhedonia makes you feel numb.

That won’t make it go away, but it will give you a measure of power over it and it will keep you from succumbing to the feeling that nothing will ever again be as “good” as it was when you were getting high or killing your pain with chemicals.

Other Behavioral Changes

It is also helpful to learn to recognize and label the kinds of feeling—such as anxiety, depression, discouragement, frustration, or worry—that used to set off cravings and chemical use. You must be aware of the possibility that setbacks in your personal or work may lead to craving, and that you may not even be aware of why you suddenly feel craving.

With help, you can begin to accept these feelings as normal for your situation, to see them for exactly what they are and confuse them with a need for chemicals. These negative feelings and other setbacks cannot be solved by chemicals but can be solved only with the methods ordinary people bring to bear on such problems.

Chemical use will only make them worse. Remember, too, that weeks or even months after you stop drinking or taking drugs your body is still making millions of adjustments along the road to its own recovery.

Be patient and give your body time to get well, too.

However, sometimes the recovering person also suffers from a psychiatric disorder such as depression or anxiety that will not respond to simple patience and support.

In these cases of dual diagnosis, treatment by a qualified medical specialist is essential.

Quality recovery programs also offer specialized recovery-sensitive individual and group therapies for, among many others, special problems among women, intimacy dysfunction, and young adults.

Reach Out

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse problem, please reach out to our addiction specialists for guidance and support, at (877)-RECOVERY or (877)-732-6837. Our addiction specialists make themselves available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Because We Care.