Substance misuse can lead to a long list of physical and mental health issues. Some are more associated with chronic or long-term use, while others can occur at any time. Overdose is a serious physical risk associated with many types of drug use.
One of the most serious psychological or mental health risks is drug-induced psychosis – this can occur when you are using the drug or sometimes when you are withdrawing from it.
What is Drug-induced Psychosis?
Psychosis is sometimes also referred to as a psychotic episode or psychotic experienced. It is when you perceive reality in a different way to other people, essentially losing touch with what is real and what is not.
Psychosis can be caused by a number of mental health conditions, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and severe depression. It can also be triggered by alcohol or drug misuse and this is known as drug-induced psychosis. People with an underlying mental health condition that can cause psychosis can also be more susceptible to experiencing drug-induced psychosis when using mind-altering substances.
The Symptoms of Drug-induced Psychosis
According to the NHS, the two main symptoms of psychosis are hallucinations and delusions.1
This is when a person senses things that are not real. These may involve seeing or hearing things that do not exist outside your own mind but seem very real to the person experiencing them. This could include seeing figures or faces that are not real, seeing objects that appear to be distorted or moving in a way that they shouldn’t, or hearing voices. In other cases, hallucinations can also involve smells, tastes and the sensation of touching or feeling something that is not there. An example could be feeling crawling insects on the skin.
This is when you have a strong belief in things that are not shared by others and which can (usually) be shown not to be true. One type of delusional thinking is a ‘delusion of grandeur’, which is when you believe you are more powerful or important than you are. You might even believe you have special powers, such as the ability to influence the stock market or world events. In other cases, you might feel that people are out to get you and a common delusion is that there is a conspiracy to harm you in some way.
Mental health charity Mind says that while these symptoms can lead to confusion, disorganised thinking can also be a type of psychosis in its own right.2
It can take different forms including:
This is when thoughts race through your head very quickly. They can chase each other so fast that you start to feel out of control.
Flight of ideas
This is similar but your thoughts move quickly from one idea to the next, making links and seeing patterns and meaning that other people do not.
How Long Does Drug Psychosis Last?
In most cases, psychosis lasts for no more than a day after taking the drug, but even a short period of psychosis can have a lasting impact on mental health and well-being.
The duration of the psychosis can depend on a number of factors, including the substance involved, the heaviness of usage and the individual. MedicineNet, for example, says that with drugs such as amphetamines, phencyclidine (PCP) and cocaine, the symptoms can last from a day to several weeks.3 Where the drug misuse triggers or exacerbates a psychotic episode in a person who already suffers from an underlying mental health condition such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, it can be much more serious and could last for months.
Drug psychosis can be brought on by a number of different substances, including (but not limited to):
Alcohol – is generally associated with long-term use and withdrawal
Synthetic cannabinoids (spice)
Opiates – including illegal drugs like heroin and some prescription painkillers
Stimulants – including amphetamine and methamphetamine and cocaine
Psychosis generally occurs during or following the use of the drug and may be relatively short-lived, lasting as long as the effect of the drugs themselves. This is generally known as acute psychosis and could be a one-off that lasts a matter of hours. In other cases, drug use can trigger a psychosis that lasts far longer. It could even trigger chronic psychosis, which is long-term in nature and could even be permanent.
One of the limited numbers of definitive studies in this area looked at patients experiencing drug-induced psychosis in China. Most were found to be young males with a long history of drug addiction, with the most common drug involved being methamphetamine.4
It also found that:
Around 60% of cases saw psychotic symptoms resolved within a month of stopping using the drug
Around 30% saw symptoms persist for between one and six months after stopping drug use
Around 10% saw symptoms persist for longer than six months
The longer-lasting symptoms were found to be more common in those patients who had a family history of mental illness, started using drugs at an earlier age and had a long history of drug use.
Any kind of psychotic episode can be very serious and may be treated as a medical emergency. The NHS says you should contact your GP, who can help determine the cause of any psychosis and can refer you to relevant mental health professionals.
In the case of drug-induced psychosis, you will also have to deal with the substance misuse issue in order to avoid a reoccurrence of the problem. This could involve a stay at drug rehab, which will help you during the drug detox and explore the root causes of your substance misuse.
Evidence-led treatment programmes delivered at residential rehab provide the most effective way to deal with a drug addiction problem. Some rehabs also offer dual diagnosis treatment, which deals with addictions and mental health conditions that co-exist at the same time. This can be very valuable in cases where people have experienced drug-induced psychosis.
- Last updated: September 13, 2022
John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.
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