What is Drug-induced Psychosis?
Psychosis is when someone experiences hallucinations and delusions. People living with psychosis may hear or see things that aren’t there, and they may believe things that are impossible or of a fantastical nature. People who have this condition often lose complete touch with reality, and can severely harm themselves or others. They may believe that others are out to hurt them, or that a divine voice is telling them to hurt themselves or others.
It’s important to understand that psychosis is a symptom of a more significant problem and not a health condition in and of itself. Psychosis can be a positive symptom of many different mental health disorders. Sometimes, a legal or illegal drug can induce psychosis symptoms. It is also possible for drug use to trigger underlying mental health condition where psychosis is a symptom. As many as three in one hundred people will experience an episode of psychosis at least once during their lifetimes.
What drugs are the most likely to cause psychosis symptoms?
Certain drugs are more likely to cause psychosis symptoms than others. Long-term and heavy use of the following substances puts a person at high risk of experiencing a psychotic episode:
Heavy and prolonged meth use can induce feelings of paranoia, persecution, and auditory and visual hallucinations. Up to 40% of meth users will experience psychosis. Even after cessation, past meth abusers can suffer from long term, chronic psychotic symptoms. Periods of high-stress can increase the risk of psychosis in previous meth users.
People who use cannabis before turning seventeen are more than twice as likely to develop schizophrenia than non-users of cannabis. Heavy marijuana users are six times more likely to develop schizophrenia than non-users. People with schizophrenia experience the positive symptoms of psychosis, including persecutory beliefs, and auditory and visual hallucinations. Acute marijuana use is also associated with an increased risk of audible and visual hallucinations and paranoia.
People who inject or freebase cocaine are at high-risk of experiencing psychotic symptoms after use. As many as half of freebase cocaine users will experience psychosis. Persecutory delusions and tactile sensations are the most common psychosis symptoms that cocaine users will experience. Also, long term and heavy cocaine users may suffer from psychosis symptoms for months after cessation.
Amphetamines, or speed, can cause similar, long-term psychotic symptoms found in cocaine and methamphetamine abuse.
Heavy drinking can cause people to believe things that aren’t true, and they may act on these delusions. Usually, these symptoms will subside once a person detoxes and achieves sobriety.
When taken, these types of hallucinatory drugs produce delusions, and strong auditory, visual, and tactile hallucinations. Psychotic symptoms will subside once a person detoxes from these drugs. However, repeated use of these drugs can induce long-lasting psychosis symptoms.
For some people who take ecstasy for the first time, they can experience long-lasting, persistent psychosis symptoms.
Ketamine is a tranquilizer and is often used in veterinary surgery. Sometimes, ketamine is abused as a street drug and for its hallucinatory effects. Ketamine abusers may experience psychotic delusions and cognitive impairment.
How is drug-induced psychosis diagnosed?
To accurately diagnose psychosis caused by drugs or alcohol, doctors must first rule-out psychosis caused by mental health disorders. Psychotic symptoms that are part of a mental health condition will persist after a person detoxes and abstains from drugs or alcohol. In most cases, the symptoms of psychosis in drug use will go away after sobriety is achieved. For some unfortunate users, they may suffer from prolonged psychosis symptoms. Methamphetamine abusers are at high-risk of experiencing this complication from drug use. For methamphetamine abuse treatment to be successful, patients must have access to services that are geared toward improving the patient’s cognitive abilities.
During the peak of drug use, it can be difficult for the family, loved ones, and doctors to determine if the patient has drug-induced psychosis or a mental health disorder. It’s imperative that patients detox in a medical facility and can stay in a rehab center for several weeks to rule out a mental health condition. A diagnosis of drug-induced psychosis is usually only made when symptoms are severe, prolonged, and last much longer than the typical psychiatric symptoms present in drug withdrawal. Diagnostic criteria for drug-induced psychosis include the following:
- Symptoms are not caused by a psychological disorder, such as schizophrenia or bipolar mania.
- Evidence suggests that symptoms of psychosis began during drug use, or within a month after a person stopped taking a drug that is known to cause psychotic symptoms.
- The person is suffering from delusions and hallucinations.
- The person is not suffering from delirium.
- The symptoms of psychosis are severely impacting their day-to-day life and functioning.
What can be done to treat drug-induced psychosis?
The first step to alleviating the symptoms of drug-induced psychosis is detox and withdrawal. Doctors also can’t determine and adequately treat the condition if they are unsure if symptoms are the cause of a drug or the cause of an underlying mental health disorder. These issues deserve their own treatment regimens.
For most patients, they will need to attend a medically-assisted detox center. Once the drugs have cleared the patient’s system, doctors and clinicians can accurately diagnose drug-induced psychosis. If the psychotic symptoms are the result of an untreated mental health disorder, the patient may need to stay in a psychiatric ward until doctors can get their symptoms under control.
For patients whose psychosis is from drug use, they will need access to intensive inpatient treatment and services for cognitive ability. If a person becomes a threat to themselves or others because of psychotic symptoms, do not hesitate to call 9-1-1.
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