What Is Dysphoria?

While euphoria is used to describe a state of extreme happiness, dysphoria is the opposite—it’s a profound sense of unease or dissatisfaction. While dysphoria isn’t a mental health diagnosis on its own, it’s a symptom associated with a variety of mental illnesses, such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.

Signs

Dysphoria may accompany other signs of depression or mental health problems, such as crying, loss of interest in pleasurable activities, and disturbances in appetite or sleep.

Individuals experiencing dysphoria may think differently. A 2019 study published in Psychiatry Research found that dysphoria was linked to more frequent thoughts about the future.

Individuals with dysphoria reported more negative thoughts and more unrealistic or implausible outcomes.

It’s unclear whether more negative thoughts about the future cause dysphoria or whether dysphoria causes a bleaker outlook.

Prevalence

An individual experiencing dysphoria might not necessarily qualify for a mental illness diagnosis such as depression. Instead, their symptoms may be too mild or too short in duration to meet the criteria.

It’s estimated that about 5 percent of the general population experiences dysphoria, with women between ages 25 and 44 at the highest risk.

Dysphoria may be fleeting or short-lived. It often resolves quickly. But long-term dysphoria, which is often related to a mental illness, may cause a higher risk of suicide.

Causes

Environmental stressors, like the loss of a loved one, a stressful work environment, or family conflict may cause feelings of dysphoria.

Some physical health conditions, like nutritional deficiencies, thyroid problems, or toxicities may also cause dysphoria. It may additionally be a side effect of certain medications.

Dysphoria may be associated with a variety of mental health conditions. Individuals with the following mental illnesses may report dysphoria:

Substance Use

Up to 70 percent of people with alcohol dependence report dysphoria during heavy drinking. Individuals with alcohol dependence and a mood disorder are especially likely to experience more dysphoria as well as poorer clinical outcomes.

In some cases, dysphoria may lead to heavy drinking. In other cases, heavy drinking may cause dysphoria. Mood often improves when an individual stops drinking. But the improvement may not be immediate.

Dysphoria often occurs in the weeks following withdrawal. As appetite and sleep improve, dysphoria usually subsides.

Dysphoria has also been linked to tobacco use. It is associated with higher levels of tobacco dependence, greater perceived barriers to smoking cessation, and more severe withdrawal symptoms.

Among all depressive symptoms, dysphoria holds the strongest association with smoking outcomes. Researchers suspect it is central in the development and maintenance of maladaptive smoking.

A 2019 study published in Addictive Behaviors found that individuals with pain-related anxiety are especially likely to smoke cigarettes to cope with feelings of dysphoria.

Gender Dysphoria

Currently, the term dysphoria is most commonly used when discussing gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria refers to the distress an individual experiences when their gender identity differs from the gender they were assigned at birth.

The dysphoria sometimes resolves when the individual transitions—or begins to live—as the same gender they identify with. However, some people continue to experience dysphoria during and after transitioning.

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

Dysphoria may also be talked about in terms of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). PMDD is a much more severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Symptoms may include a variety of physical and psychological symptoms, including moodiness, irritability, depression, and poor self-image. It may be treated with medication and lifestyle changes.

Treatment

If you are experiencing a dysphoric mood that lasts more than two weeks, it’s important to seek professional help. Start by talking to your physician. Your physician will want to rule out any medical conditions or medication interactions that may be causing your dysphoria.

Once physical health issues are ruled out, you may be referred to a mental health professional. A mental health professional may assess your symptoms and determine if your dysphoria is part of a mental health condition.

Treatment depends on the cause of the dysphoria. Talk therapy, medication, or lifestyle changes may be recommended to help improve your mood and assist you in feeling your best.

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Article Sources

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  • Smit T, Peraza N, Garey L, et al. Pain-related anxiety and smoking processes: The explanatory role of dysphoria. Addictive Behaviors. 2019;88:15-22. DOI: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2018.08.008

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