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What Is Drug-Induced Psychosis?

Written By: Harris House

Category: Blog

Drug addiction is linked with a number of impacts, ranging from problems at work and changes in appearance to physical health woes and financial challenges. One particularly dangerous consequence associated with recreational and prescription use and substance abuse is drug-induced psychosis. Here’s a closer look at the issue.

Table with vials, pills, and a syringe.

Are you dealing with a loved one suffering from drug-infused psychosis?

Understanding Psychosis

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), “Psychosis is not a diagnosis but a symptom or set of symptoms that can have many different causes….Psychosis is defined as a loss of contact with reality.”  While psychosis can manifest in different ways, it usually involves hallucinations and delusions. Other symptoms of psychosis may include incoherent thoughts, disorganized speech, lethargy, changes in emotions, erratic behavior, and antisocial behavior.

 It is usually associated with mental health conditions, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

About Drug-Induced Psychosis

Certain drugs can induce psychotic symptoms, such as dangerous thoughts and violent behavior and suicidal thoughts. In many cases, these behaviors result in hospitalizations and arrests.

While many substances can trigger psychotic symptoms with prolonged use, some drugs are more likely to cause drug-induced psychosis, including the following:

  • Methamphetamines
  • Cannabis
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines
  • Alcohol
  • Psychedelic drugs
  • Club/recreation drugs, including ecstasy
  • Prescription meds, including ketamine

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, drug-induced psychosis can be diagnosed by the following criteria:

  • The presence of symptoms which are not better explained by a schizophrenia, bipolar or another psychotic disorder
  • Evidence based on patient history, medical examination and lab results linking psychotic symptoms with current or recent substance abuse
  • The presence of hallucinations and/or delusions
  • The existence of psychotic symptoms independent of delirium episodes
  • Symptoms that cause significant distress and impairment to daily functionality

Managing Drug-Induced Psychosis

Because people with primary psychotic disorders who misuse substances often present with the same symptoms as those with drug-induced psychosis, it can be difficult to distinguish between the two conditions, according to research published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice. However, it is important to do so because treatment planning may differ depending on the cause.

The good news? Just as drug-induced psychotic disorders are caused by the use of certain substances, these symptoms can be managed through treatment. The bad news? Stopping the symptoms relies on stopping drug use, which is obviously much more easily said than done.

In some cases, patients who initially present with drug-induced psychotic episodes may go on to “convert” to mental illness afterward. “We hope that clinicians will glean from our study that patients with alcohol or substance-induced psychoses are very much at risk of developing schizophrenia or bipolar disorder afterward,” Carsten Hjorthøj, Ph.D., MSc, senior researcher and head of psychosis research at Copenhagen University in Denmark told Psychiatry Advisor

In addition to risk factors like age, scientists have also honed in more clearly on the degree to which certain drugs factor in. “It seems that cannabis is the substance most strongly related to later development of schizophrenia, while amphetamine is more related to the acute drug-induced psychosis. However, amphetamine use seems to increase the risk for later schizophrenia. It seems to be the sum of type of drug (cannabis and amphetamine most importantly), amount used (age of onset, frequency of use, cumulative exposure, strength of psychoactive component/[tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)] concentration), and genetic and environmental vulnerability,” added psychologist Eline Borger Rognli, Ph.D.

Group of people sitting while listening to a person speaking.

The involvement of family and friends can be essential in the treatment and prevention of drug-induced psychosis.

The takeaway? While avoiding drug use is the safest bet when it comes to preventing drug-induced psychosis, prompt treatment is essential to recovery and relapse prevention — as is vigilant follow-up.  “Frequent check-ups with probes for severe mental illness may be warranted; it may also be a good idea, with the patient’s permission, of course, to involve family and possibly friends in a ‘how to detect early warning signs’ intervention,” concluded Dr Hjorthøj.

If you or any of your loved ones are struggling with substance abuse and/or drug-abused psychosis, contact the leading St. Louis drug and alcohol rehab treatment center Harris House today to learn more about its addiction recovery programs.