What is Amotivational Syndrome?


By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Unmotivated.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Have you lost your drive or your desire to do something?

Amotivational Syndrome is often connected with the smoking of marijuana.  This is something quite different from what we see in depression.  In depression, people lose the desire to do things they use to make them happy.  We call that loss of pleasure anhedonia.

In Amotivational Syndrome people seem to spend more time looking inward and contemplating things and less time actively doing them.  This syndrome was originally recognized in younger, marijuana smokers who were heavier daily users.

Does marijuana smoking cause a loss of motivation?

Things that are, or were, associated with Amotivational Syndrome include the development of apathy and loss of ambition.  Heavy smokers just seem to become indifferent and stop caring about anything except smoking.  They seem to have fewer goals and decreased effectiveness.  Problems with attention and concentration have also been attributed to heavy marijuana smoking and Amotivational Syndrome.

Many of these characteristics are seen in daily, heavy, marijuana smokers.  What is unclear is whether marijuana smoking causes this cluster of symptoms or whether those people who are low in motivation like to smoke marijuana.  At one point it was commonly accepted that some marijuana smokers are likely to suffer from Amotivational Syndrome.

Not all marijuana smokers are low in motivation.

Because of the many famous, popular people, who have been reported to be regular marijuana smokers, the connection between smoking marijuana and low motivation has come into question. It is unclear how common this condition is, or even if this is a valid syndrome.  Amotivational Syndrome has not been reported in countries other than the United States.  There’s some question whether Amotivational Syndrome is, in fact, a cultural rather than a mental condition.

Animals on marijuana don’t lose motivation.

Laboratory studies of both humans and animals have not found evidence of the Amotivational Syndrome for those using marijuana.  Amotivational Syndrome or loss of goals and direction has been found in many groups of young people who are not using marijuana on a regular basis.  This has led some writers to conclude that Amotivational Syndrome is a personality characteristic rather than the result of smoking marijuana.  It may be that those people with low motivation are attracted to using marijuana and other intoxicating substances.

One other possibility that has been suggested is that those people who are under the influence of drugs and alcohol or other substances may have low motivations to do anything while under the influence.  What we may be seeing in those people who were described as having Amotivational Syndrome may, in fact, be the effects of intoxication and withdrawal from marijuana or other substances.

As with the other things we are calling a mental illness or symptoms of a mental illness Amotivational Syndrome would need to interfere with your ability to work or go to school, your relationships, your enjoyable activities, or cause you personal distress for it to be the focus of clinical attention. Otherwise, while you may have lost some motivation you will not be identified as someone needing clinical assistance.  If the only time you have low motivation is when you are under the influence of marijuana or another drug this would be diagnosed as drug intoxication.

For more on this and related topics see the other posts on counselorssoapbox.com under        Drug Use, Abuse, and Addiction

FYI These “What is” sometimes “What are” posts are my efforts to explain terms commonly used in Mental Health, Clinical Counseling, Substance Use Disorder Counseling, Psychology, Life Coaching, and related disciplines in a plain language way. Many are based on the new DSM-5; some of the older posts were based on the DSM-IV-TR, both published by the APA. For the more technical versions please consult the DSM or other appropriate references.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

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