What Is Amotivational Syndrome?

Man looking worried

Maskot / Getty Images

What Is Amotivational Syndrome?

Amotivational syndrome is a psychiatric condition characterized by changes in a person’s personality, emotions, and cognitive function.

A person with this condition will experience a lack of concentration and activeness, apathy, and poor memory. The condition was first observed in the 1960s amongst people who had a long history of cannabis use.

It has since been linked to the use of other psychoactive drugs such as methamphetamines and some over-the-counter cough syrups. 

If you’ve been feeling unmotivated and uninterested in things that would usually bring you joy, you might be living with this condition. 

Amotivational Syndrome Symptoms

The symptoms of amotivational syndrome are similar to depression, this is why the condition can sometimes be misdiagnosed as depression.

The most common symptoms of amotivational syndrome include apathy and emotional bluntness.

Other symptoms that often occur with this condition include: 

Identifying Amotivational Syndrome 

A lot of symptoms of amotivational syndrome mirror that of depression, which is why it can sometimes be misdagnosed as depression. Some research shows that amotivational syndrome affects the frontal lobe of the brain.

The frontal lobe is the part of the brain responsible for:

The earliest signs of amotivational syndrome are signs of apathy. Signs of apathy include:

  • Short and long-term memory loss
  • Showing a lack of emotions
  • Inability to focus on activities that need high concentration

Causes 

There is no conclusive research to point out an exact cause for amotivational syndrome. Some researchers have linked the condition to excessive use of marijuana.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) could also potentially cause amotivational syndrome. SSRIs are a common type of antidepressant. They are typically used to treat depression and include drugs like Zoloft and Prozac.

There have also been several reports of the use of psychoactive substances such as methamphetamine, some over-the-counter cough syrups, and solvents causing amotivational syndrome.

The syndrome is considered to be one of the most common psychiatric conditions to occur in people who have a history of using psychoactive substances.

Psychoactive substances are considered to be any drugs or substances that alter the way your brain works.

Types 

Marijuana amotivational syndrome and SSRI induced amotivational syndrome are the two most common types of the condition.

Marijuana Amotivational Syndrome 

Amotivational syndrome was first observed amongst people who use marijuana frequently. However, the link between marijuana use and amotivational syndrome continues to be a source of controversy and debate.

While some studies show that frequent users of marijuana are most likely to experience amotivational syndrome, others believe that not only is marijuana not responsible for the condition, the recreational drug actually leads to an increase in well-being for its users.

One study on the link between marijuana and amotivational syndrome proposes that chronic marijuana users who experience a severe lack of motivation might already have depression and that amotivational syndrome symptoms might only be a manifestation of their depression and not caused by the use of marijuana itself.

Some other studies report that amotivational syndrome is likely to occur between 16% and 21% of chronic marijuana users.

Research does show that cannabis is the most commonly attributed cause of amotivational syndrome.

In a 2018 study, researchers tested the link between marijuana use and amotivational syndrome in 505 college students. They factored in age, gender, and race demographics. They also included evaluations of the participants' personalities. For example, researchers considered whether participants were using any other substances such as tobacco and alcohol.

At the end of the study, researchers found that marijuana use alone significantly caused lower initiative and persistence which are signs of amotivational syndrome. They concluded that marijuana is a risk factor for developing the syndrome.

SSRI Induced Amotivational Syndrome 

Some people have reported developing amotivational syndrome either through long-term or short-term use of SSRIs.

SSRIs are designed to mimic chemical messengers like serotonin in our brain to help alleviate symptoms of depression and make you feel better. However, this has been shown to sometimes cause the original serotonin receptors in our brain to become damaged or worn.

When these receptors are damaged or worn you might find it difficult to find the motivation to do things that you would typically enjoy and might experience feelings of sadness and apathy. 

Amotivational syndrome is a potential side effect of using SSRIs that often goes unreported. While there is limited data on the topic and more research needs to be conducted on how SSRIs cause the syndrome, a 2004 study researchers showed that 20% of participants reported experiencing apathy after taking SSRIs and 16.1% reported experiencing a loss in their sense of ambition.

Even though there has been several reports of SSRIs causing amotivational syndrome, there’s still no conclusive research linking the condition to the use of SSRIs. Further research into the condition and the use of SSRIs needs to be carried out.

Amotivational Syndrome Treatment 

Amotivational syndrome is characterized by many symptoms that mirror depressive symptoms. This is why treatment for both conditions is typically very similar.

The use of antidepressants and psychotherapy is typically recommended for the treatment of the condition. However, if an SSRI is thought to be the cause of your amotivational syndrome your doctor is most likely to recommend that your dosage be reduced or eventually stopped.

There are three ways in which SSRI induced amotivational syndrome is typically treated: 

  • By reducing the dosage of the SSRI medication 
  • By adding a second medication that could help reduce the symptoms of amotivation 
  • By switching to another class of antidepressant drugs like serotonin-norepinephrin reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) for instance. 

The most effective way of treating marijuana syndrome is by slowly reducing the intake of marijuana. Stopping abruptly might only worsen a person’s symptoms.

Controversy 

Some studies claim that there is no such thing as amotivational syndrome. According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, the only evidence to back up the existence of the condition consists mostly of observational reports and case histories.

Currently, none of the amotivational research studies have resulted in any conclusive evidence that the syndrome exists.

A Word From Verywell

If you're experiencing feelings of apathy and a loss of motivation to do typical activities, it might be helpful to consider reaching out to a trained mental health professional who can accurately diagnose your condition.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ozaki S, Wada K. Amotivational syndrome in organic solvent abusers. Nihon Yakurigaku Zasshi. 2001 Jan;117(1):42-8. Japanese. doi: 10.1254/fpj.117.42. PMID: 11233295.

  2. Ozaki S, Wada K. [Amotivational syndrome in organic solvent abusers]. Nihon Yakurigaku Zasshi. 2001;117(1):42-48.

  3. Ozaki S, Wada K. New developments in drug dependence studies. Amotivational syndrome in organic solvent abusers. Folia Pharmacol Jpn. 2001;117(1):42-48.

  4. Barnwell S, Earleywine M, Wilcox R. [Cannabis, motivation, and life satisfaction in an internet sample]. Subst Abuse Treat Prev Policy. 2006;1(1):2.

  5. Kupfer DJ, Detre T, Koral J, Fajans P. A comment on the “amotivational syndrome” in marijuana smokers. AJP. 1973;130(12):1319-1322.

  6. Arı M, Şahpolat M, Kokaçya MH, Çöpoğlu ÜS. Amotivational syndrome: less known and diagnosed as a clinical -. Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. 2015;5(1):31-35.

  7. Lac A, Luk JW. Testing the amotivational syndrome: marijuana use longitudinally predicts lower self-efficacy even after controlling for demographics, personality, and alcohol and cigarette use. Prev Sci. 2018;19(2):117-126.

  8. Sansone RA, Sansone LA. Ssri-induced indifference. Psychiatry (Edgmont). 2010;7(10):14-18.

  9. Schaffer Library of Drug Policy. The probable health effects of cannabis.