From work politics to romantic relationships, most of us balance a range of obligations that demand our time, energy, and motivation. Most of us will experience a lack of motivation to complete daily tasks or simply engage in activities that we usually enjoy, from time to time. But if you regularly feel disengaged from daily responsibilities or indifferent to former passions, your feelings may indicate a more significant condition.
Many researchers and healthcare professionals debate the validity of this condition. While more studies are needed to understand AS and its mechanisms, its symptoms may resonate among people who frequently use cannabis, are diagnosed with schizophrenia, or use selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Read on to learn more about the potential causes and symptoms of AS, followed by treatments to manage the condition and improve your overall health.
Amotivational Syndrome (AS): What To Know
According to a 2013 study of AS in people who use cannabis and other recreational drugs, individuals with AS may appear detached from the outer world and experience a loss of emotional reactivity, drives, and aims. In general, AS is characterized by a lack of motivation, which is also one of the key symptoms of clinical depression. To diagnose someone with AS, a doctor needs to have a full understanding of that individual’s physical and mental health history, their relationship with drugs, and other circumstantial factors that may affect their motivation levels.
AS is generally divided into two subtypes: marijuana amotivational syndrome, also known as cannabis-induced amotivational syndrome, and SSRI-induced amotivational syndrome or SSRI-induced apathy.
Marijuana Amotivational Syndrome
The connection between cannabis and motivation is a source of extensive debate, as recognized by a group of researchers in a 2006 study of cannabis and motivation. In their research, cannabis-induced AS is characterized by apathy toward life, fatigue, and poor performance at work and school. In their study of regular cannabis users, the researchers found no correlation between cannabis use and motivation. In other studies, however, result aligns with the AS hypothesis: in a 2019 study of marijuana and motivation, for example, researchers identified significant links between chronic cannabis usage, apathy, and passivity, which may reduce performance at work and school.
Ultimately, researchers are gathering more information to clarify the connection between cannabis consumption and motivation. As the research develops, it’s important to remember that other lifestyle factors can affect our ability to self-motivate. Psychologists often discuss motivation under the umbrella of self-efficacy, which describes an individual’s belief in their capacity to perform and achieve desired outcomes. Some research indicates that cannabis may reduce an individual’s sense of self-efficacy, and, indirectly, their motivation levels.
SSRI-Induced Amotivational Syndrome
For many people living with clinical depression and anxiety, SSRIs are an invaluable tool. However, some studies suggest that regular SSRI usage is associated with behavioral apathy and emotional blunting, which means that individuals may experience low motivation and have difficulty getting hold of a full range of emotions. The mechanisms of SSRI-induced apathy remain unclear, but current research points toward a disruption of activity in the frontal lobes. In some people, SSRIs may cause dysfunction in this brain region by altering levels of serotonin, which plays a role in emotional processing, mood, sexual desire, and other psychological dimensions.
Symptoms Of Amotivational Syndrome
- Poor concentration
- Memory disturbances
- Reduced or “blunted” emotions
- Lack of activity
- Avolition, or the failure to engage in goal-directed behavior, per the APA
Compared to a person with clinical depression, an individual with AS may find that their symptoms subside when they reduce their use of cannabis or SSRIs. However, people who are predisposed to develop AS may already have a history of depression or related mental health conditions. If you suspect that your use of SSRIs, cannabis, or another recreational or prescription drug is affecting your motivation and overall health, consult a doctor for further guidance.
Amotivational Syndrome Controversy
To date, most of the research on AS consists of observational reports and case histories. According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, none of the research on AS yields any conclusive evidence about the existence and causes of AS.
While SSRIs have been associated with indifference, it’s unclear whether they lead to a loss of motivation and drive that meet the criteria for AS. Similarly, in the realm of cannabis, researchers have not reached any concrete conclusions about the long-term motivational and psychological effects of regular cannabis usage. However, there is little doubt that cannabis intoxication has some effect on the nervous system. When AS is discussed in the context of cannabis, it may be more helpful – and more accurate – to regard AS as a set of behaviors. From this standpoint, these behaviors develop from an interaction of cannabis usage, personality traits, and circumstantial factors that may affect a person’s motivation levels.
Preexisting mental health conditions, socioeconomic factors, and generalized life stress may predispose individuals to use cannabis, develop depression, and/or develop AS. Like many psychological conditions, it’s difficult (and perhaps impossible) to show that a single factor “causes” AS.
Treatment Of Amotivational Syndrome
If you believe that you or a loved one are experiencing AS, it’s important to connect with a therapist and doctor and discuss your lack of motivation, as well as any related symptoms. While your healthcare provider will likely recognize the controversy surrounding AS, they can also validate your concerns and discuss a treatment plan to improve your symptoms.
If you suspect that you’re experiencing AS due to cannabis or SSRIs, your doctor will most likely recommend one of the following options:
- Reduce your cannabis usage
- Reduce the dosage of your SSRI medication
- Try another form of antidepressant drugs
Consult with your doctor before making any of these decisions. It’s important to implement any lifestyle changes gradually, safely, and with the oversight of a licensed medical professional.
Online Therapy For Amotivational Syndrome
A growing body of evidence indicates that online therapy can effectively address depression, anxiety, and related conditions. In a study of Internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), participants reported feeling actively engaged in the treatment, which was interactive and could be tailored to the specific needs of each patient. While this study does not explicitly assess AS, the researchers note that when patients play an active role in the therapeutic process, they may be more motivated to do the “work” of therapy and utilize coping strategies outside of sessions.
If you’re struggling to find the motivation to schedule and commute to an in-person therapy appointment, Internet-based therapy is an excellent alternative. Platforms like BetterHelp give you the flexibility to connect with licensed, experienced therapists on your own terms. Get hold of resources and counseling sessions from the comfort of your home, and communicate with your therapist via text, live chat, video conference, or phone call. If you’re interested in getting started, check out the following reviews from real BetterHelp users, who have restored their mental health with the support of an online therapist.
"Stephanie has been my counselor for six months and I can say she has definitely been a great help in pulling me out of the abyss and helping me in the battle with my depression. She doesn't give too much and never takes away too little. She is always listening and questioning and responding. That helps me think further and understand what I need to do to be the better person I want to be. Stephanie has been a great help for that and if I could I would send all my friends directly to her for their own therapy. Cause I always bring up how great she is in every social conversation about therapy that I can get."
"Laurie is an empathetic and motivational person. I feel like I can just be honest with and go to her for support. She is super client-centered and will be your biggest advocate. In just two sessions she has been a great listening ear but more importantly has provided me with fresh perspectives and real-life exercises to help with my confidence and anxiety. She is warm, understanding, and experienced. I would definitely recommend!"
What causes amotivational syndrome?
Research has given no definitive answers for what causes amotivational syndrome yet, but some studies indicate excessive use of marijuana in a cannabis-related environment may play a part.
For example, a 2018 study published in the National Library of Medicine measured 505 college students with "cannabis use disorder" (a condition marked by a pattern of chronic cannabis use that significantly affects an individual's ability to function productively on a daily basis) and found that "marijuana use longitudinally predicted lower initiative and persistence, whereas the reversed directional processes were unsupported."
Conversely, a 2023 study published in the Journal of Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology measured 47 heavy cannabis users— the findings suggest that "college students who use cannabis are more likely to expend effort to obtain reward, even after controlling for the magnitude of the reward and the probability of reward receipt."
Amotivational syndrome isn't unique to lethargic cannabis users, however. There are numerous alternative explanations for amotivational syndrome-- for example, lack of motivation and lethargy are common negative symptoms of a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety. Both can cause apathy, blunted affect, and anhedonia.
Chronic psychiatric disorders characterized by negative symptoms, such as schizophrenia, may also present amotivational syndrome symptoms.
What is an example of amotivational syndrome?
Examples may include individuals taking certain SSRIs who avoid tasks on their to-do list because they don't see the point, or a cannabis user may neglect their responsibilities at work or school because they feel an aversion to going.
What is the amotivational syndrome medication?
While there is a tentative association between marijuana use and amotivational syndrome, some SSRIs' side effects include flat affect/emotional blunting that may create apathy and demotivation.
What are the characteristics of amotivational syndrome?
Amotivational symptoms may include a loss of interest in activity, blunted emotions, poor concentration and memory, cognitive impairment, and lack of goal-directed behavior.
How do you treat Amotivation?
Effective treatments for amotivation syndrome depend on the individual and their circumstances. People with the syndrome may need to reduce their cannabis use or consult their doctor about changing or reducing their SSRI medication regimen. Because of its association with specific mental health issues, some people choose to speak to a mental health professional if they feel a significant lack of goal-oriented motivation.
How do you fix Amotivation?
"Fixing" amotivation for good may not be realistic for everyone, as the feelings associated with it typically come and go. For example, one may feel highly motivated to accomplish tasks one day but don't even want to look at their to-do list another.
But there are some steps one may take to cope with it on a case-by-case basis and find the motivation on those days when it's challenging to get started. Remember that these suggestions are meant to help, not to put more tasks on your plate. If engaging in all of them feels overwhelming, choose those that you think will have the most significant impact on your motivation. You can always add more once you get started if you wish.
- Set clear overall goals.
- Clearly define why you need/want to achieve the goal.
- Visualize the successful completion of your goal. Some people choose to create a vision board, complete a guided visualization exercise, or simply take some time to imagine it.
- Break down those goals into smaller tasks or milestones that are easier to accomplish.
- Determine a time frame for when you need to achieve the milestones and schedule them accordingly into your daily routine.
- Ask a friend or family member to check in on your progress and help hold you accountable.
- Develop a reward system for achieving milestones or completing tasks.
- Keep a journal of your progress.
- Identify and minimize distractions that may decrease your motivation.
- Understand there will likely be setbacks along the way, and don't let them discourage you.
- Stay positive throughout the process and focus on what you have accomplished vs. what you have yet to complete.
What is amotivation in psychology?
More than a condition used to describe lethargic cannabis users, the term amotivational syndrome, when used within a psychological context, may be defined as a "lack or absence of volitional drive to engage in any activity resulting from non-self-determined motivation."
What is amotivational syndrome in the DSM 5?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illness, Volume V (DSM-V) does not recognize amotivational syndrome as a diagnosable condition on its own. However, the DSM-V does reference the condition in the same category as cannabis use disorder (sometimes referred to as cannabis amotivational syndrome) because of its association with excessive cannabis use.
What is amotivation in schizophrenia?
Research on amotivation in chronic psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia is ongoing. However, recent studies applying effort-oriented decision-making tasks during clinical assessments indicate a connection between cognitive effort-avoidance and amotivation in schizophrenic patients.
Why do I feel tired, lazy, and unmotivated all the time?
The causes of fatigue and a lack of motivation often vary between individuals. In addition, it's essential to consider the role of both physical and psychological contributors.
There are many possible reasons why one may have these symptoms:
- Lack Of Sleep— Not enough or poor-quality sleep can significantly contribute to feeling tired and unmotivated.
- Stress And Anxiety— Chronic exposure to unmanaged stress and anxiety can lead to fatigue and overwhelm, causing a lack of motivation to engage in daily activities.
- Depression—Lack of energy, motivation, and interest in activities you once enjoyed can be a common symptom of depression.
- Lifestyle Choices-- Poor diet, lack of exercise, and excessive consumption of caffeine or alcohol may negatively impact your energy levels and motivation.
- Substance Use— The excessive use of psychoactive substances may result in feelings of lethargy and amotivation.
- Prescription Medications—Some types of prescription medications can cause a lack of motivation and fatigue. Speak to your prescriber if you think this may be a factor. Amotivation may also result from a comorbid drug prescribed to enhance an existing medication regimen.
- Medical Conditions-- Certain medical conditions, such as thyroid disorders, anemia, and chronic fatigue syndrome, can lead to persistent fatigue. If you suspect a medical issue, consult a healthcare professional.
- Boredom Or Lack Of Purpose—If you're not engaged in activities that are meaningful or enjoyable to you, you may experience a lack of motivation.
- "Burnout"-- Overworking, taking on too many responsibilities, or experiencing burnout in your job or personal life can lead to chronic fatigue and a loss of motivation.
- Social Isolation— Lack of social interaction and support can contribute to feelings of lethargy and disinterest. Connecting with friends and loved ones can help boost your mood and motivation.
- Hormonal Fluctuations-- Hormonal fluctuations, such as those related to menopause, pregnancy, or certain medications, can affect energy levels and motivation.
* If you suspect your amotivation may be caused by a medical condition, substance abuse, or a mental health disorder, it's important to seek help from a professional immediately.
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