What is Avolition and How is it Treated?

What avolition looks like

A person experiencing avolition may withdraw from social contact and normal activities. They often have no enthusiasm and get little enjoyment from life. Their emotions may become dulled and conversations may be disjointed.

Avolition is often mistaken as depression. It’s more clearly identified and understood when a person also displays positive symptoms of schizophrenia. It’s important to keep in mind that a person with avolition isn’t avoiding activities. They simply don’t have the ability to act.

Examples of avolition

Avolition affects every aspect of daily life — personal relationships, home, and school.

A person with avolition may experience the following:

  • doesn’t make eye contact when speaking or spoken to
  • limited or halted speech
  • stops participating in events or gatherings
  • avoids making or receiving phone calls
  • has trouble starting or completing projects
  • doesn’t participate or show enthusiasm for special occasions or events
  • fails to make appointments, such as for the doctor or tax preparer
Avolition isn’t the same thing as laziness

Some might assume these things are due to a person’s laziness or irresponsibility. But people with avolition don’t have the ability to act. In a sense, it’s like being paralyzed by apathy or the inability to anticipate or experience the rewards of performing a task. In contrast, laziness may be considered a willful act of a person who doesn’t have a mental health disorder.

What causes avolition in schizophrenia

Avolition is one of the more common negative symptoms of schizophrenia. It’s also seen in other mental and neurological disorders.

It isn’t clear what causes schizophrenia, though the following may be factors:

  • genetics
  • brain development
  • chemicals in the brain
  • complications of pregnancy and childbirth

It’s not known why some people develop negative symptoms like avolition.

When a person has two or more negative symptoms for more than 12 months and was clinically stable otherwise, they are said to have deficit schizophrenia syndrome. About 25 percent of people with schizophrenia have this syndrome.

People with deficit schizophrenia usually have more severe negative symptoms that are more difficult to treat. Although positive symptoms like delusions and hallucinations may seem more alarming, negative symptoms tend to have a greater impact on a person’s ability to function.

Other negative symptoms

Other negative symptoms of schizophrenia overlap with avolition. Mental health specialists often combine some of them as a single symptom.

It’s easy to see why when you consider how interrelated the following symptoms are:

Anhedonia: This is the inability to experience pleasure or anticipate rewards.

Affective blunting or flattening: When a person is unable to show or express emotions, it’s called blunting or flattening. Lack of emotional expression may be obvious when a person is speaking or by their body language.

Alogia: This refers to problems with speaking or carrying on your part of a conversation. It may include not asking or responding to questions. People with alogia often have trouble forming thoughts and following conversations, particularly when the speaker switches from one topic to another.

Attentional impairment: Many people with schizophrenia have trouble with concentration and focus. They may be unable to filter out unwanted noises and stimulation. It’s also not unusual to have problems with memory.

Anosognosia: This refers to a lack of insight or awareness that’s often used to describe a person’s inability to recognize that they have a mental illness. At least 50 percent of people with schizophrenia aren’t aware of their disease. Anosognosia is one of the main reasons many people with the disease don’t take their medications.

Treatment options

The negative symptoms of schizophrenia are generally more difficult to treat than positive symptoms. And there’s no gold standard for treating them.

Treatment is usually most effective when started early, so it’s important to begin it when the disorder is first identified. It can take several weeks for medications to take full effect.

Treatment usually includes a combination of medications and therapy.


Antipsychotic medications are most effective in treating positive symptoms of schizophrenia, including delusions and hallucinations. They are theorized to work by correcting the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that help brain cells communicate with each other.

Antipsychotic medications are effective in helping four out of five people who take them. However, some antipsychotic medications can increase avolition and other negative symptoms.

Common antipsychotics taken by mouth include:

  • clozapine (Clozaril)
  • risperidone (Risperdal)
  • cariprazine (Vraylar)
  • aripiprazole (Abilify)
  • quetiapine (Seroquel)
  • haloperidol (Haldol)

Side effects are common and may include:

  • shakiness
  • slowness or sluggishness
  • abnormal movement of the tongue and jaw
  • sexual problems

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or talk therapy, and cognitive enhancement therapy can be very useful in helping people gain skills they need to function in their daily activities.

Electroconvulsive therapy may be recommended if antipsychotic medications aren’t effective.


Treatment can help control symptoms of schizophrenia for many people, enabling them to lead independent, productive lives. For those who aren’t helped by treatment, mental health agencies can provide information about services to support basic needs, such as housing, employment, and healthcare.

How to help someone who is experiencing avolition

Caring for someone can be challenging, both for you and for the person you’re caring for. It can be difficult to accept help, especially if it feels unneeded. It can also be difficult to offer help when it feels as though it’s unappreciated.

It’s important to be patient with yourself and with the person you’re caring for. Together, you can work through any obstacles you’re facing.

Here are a few other helpful approaches:

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