Meth-induced psychosis is a hazardous and frightening side effect of methamphetamine abuse. Psychotic symptoms experienced usually include disabling hallucinations and delusions, and episodes of meth-induced psychosis frequently cause feelings of intense paranoia and aggression in people who’ve been using this toxic, highly addictive drug. Treatment for meth-induced psychosis takes time and involves multiple steps, but well-designed recovery programs give sufferers an excellent chance of regaining their mental health and restoring their sobriety.
What is Meth-Induced Psychosis?
Methamphetamine is a potent and powerfully addictive drug manufactured from medicinal ingredients and a stew of caustic, toxic chemicals. It is produced in illegal laboratories where quality control is lacking, which means that people who consume methamphetamine never know exactly what they’re taking.
The side effects of meth are both intense and unpredictable, and in some instances meth users may suffer a psychotic break from reality that persists even beyond the period of intoxication. Meth-induced psychosis is an especially dangerous and terrifying form of drug-induced psychosis, and its devastating symptoms can create a severe medical emergency that requires rapid and aggressive treatment.
Even without a relapse, recovering methamphetamine addicts may suffer from a recurrence of psychotic symptoms, which could require additional treatment services.
Types of Meth-Induced Psychosis
There is only one type of meth-induced psychosis, although symptoms can range from mild to moderate to severe, depending on how far the condition has advanced.
Based on its effects in the brain, meth-induced psychosis is classified as a form of stimulant psychosis. Other stimulants that can produce similar symptoms include amphetamine, MDMA (ecstasy), methcathinone, and cocaine.
Facts and Statistics
- In 2016, an estimated 684,000 Americans aged 12 and over suffered from a methamphetamine use disorder.
- Over the course of a lifetime, about three percent of American adults will suffer at least one psychotic episode.
- A 2005 study of patients seeking treatment for psychotic symptoms found that 44 percent were suffering specifically from drug-induced psychosis.
- In one study from the 1990s, 100 percent of participants with severe amphetamine abuse problems (a category that included methamphetamine abuse) reported at least some psychotic symptoms.
A 2015 study found that 70 percent of meth-induced psychosis sufferers had a co-occurring personality disorder, and about two-thirds had a co-occurring mood disorder (either major depression or bipolar disorder).
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Meth-Induced Psychosis
While drug-induced psychosis is not automatically synonymous with chemical dependency, people with meth-induced psychosis are almost always addicted to methamphetamine.
Signs of Methamphetamine Abuse
The telltale physical and behavioral indicators of methamphetamine dependency include:
- Constant anxiety and paranoia
- Decreases in appetite accompanied by sudden weight loss
- Insomnia and/or extreme drowsiness during daytime hours
- Moodiness; chattiness alternating with social withdrawal
- Inconsistent energy levels; extreme highs followed by lethargy and fatigue
- Increases in heart rate and blood pressure
- Severe tooth decay
- Open sores and pockmarks on the face (or arms if the drug is injected}
- Very poor memory and an inability to focus and concentrate
- Secretive behavior, defensiveness
- Lying about whereabouts or activities
- Sudden, unexplained hostility toward loved ones
- Multiple encounters with the law, including DUIs or arrests for assault
Methamphetamine is a highly addictive substance, and people who smoke, snort, or inject it may begin to show signs of addiction after just two or three weeks of usage.
Signs of Psychosis
Except for overdose, psychosis is the most serious side effect of meth abuse and is generally only experienced after prolonged and chronic use. Psychotic symptoms may progressively worsen before a deep psychotic break occurs, or full-blown psychosis may seem to develop suddenly, without warning, after a particularly heavy period of drug abuse.
The symptoms of meth-induced psychosis include:
- Hallucinations. Any of the five senses can be affected, although visual, auditory, and tactile hallucinations are most common. Sufferers may hear voices or see apparitions, which often seem threatening and hostile, and people who abuse meth frequently experience strange physical sensations that feel like bugs crawling across or under their skin.
- Delusions. People with meth-induced psychosis are often convinced they’re being haunted, stalked, or persecuted by others, and they see signs of danger everywhere. Alternatively, they may have delusions of grandeur and invincibility, believing they are special, important, and destined to accomplish great things.
- Paranoia. Paranoid thinking and behavior is a common side effect of meth abuse, and when psychosis develops the paranoia may be constant and all-encompassing.
- Aggression and hostility. Meth-induced psychosis sufferers cannot control their emotions or their impulses, and that combined with their paranoia and fears of persecution makes for an explosive and dangerous mix.
- Hyperactivity. People with meth-induced psychosis often cannot sit still or stop moving, and they can get themselves into risky or unpleasant situations because of their restlessness.
- Obsessive-compulsive behavior. Repetitive and obsessive behaviors are common with meth-induced psychosis, and these actions often involve self-mutilation or other destructive behaviors.
Auditory hallucinations and delusions of persecution are the most frequently reported side effects of meth-induced psychosis, but the mix of symptoms experienced by sufferers will inevitably vary from person to person.
People suffering the debilitating and disconnected symptoms of meth-induced psychosis are a risk to themselves and to others, and their drug abuse only makes the situation more frightening. Meth-induced psychosis is a medical crisis and a cry for help that should not be ignored.
Diagnosing Meth-Induced Psychosis
Before meth-induced psychosis can be officially diagnosed, five criteria must be met:
- Hallucinations and delusions should be frequently experienced and accompanied by irrational behaviors and statements.
- Psychotic symptoms cannot be linked to another mental health disorder capable of producing them, such as depression or schizophrenia.
- Symptoms should have developed simultaneously with meth abuse or manifested within 30 days of the last incidence of usage if the drug is no longer being used.
- The symptoms must occur outside the context of intoxicated states of delirium.
- The symptoms should be severe and debilitating enough to make normal daily functioning impossible.
Mental health professionals understand the connection between substance abuse and psychotic symptoms, and they will screen for drug-induced psychosis even if the presence of another mental disorder is known or suspected.
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Causes and Risk Factors
Psychosis is an established side effect of methamphetamine abuse, and it is more likely to develop in people who abuse meth heavily and for an extended duration. Drug abuse is one of the primary causes of psychosis, and anyone who consumes illicit intoxicants could be in danger of suffering a psychotic breakdown.
But despite the general vulnerability, there are several risk factors that increase the likelihood of psychosis in methamphetamine users. They include:
- A family history of drug abuse and/or psychosis
- Genetic variations that affect brain functioning
- Brain diseases or injuries (dementia, Parkinson’s disease, multiple concussions, etc.)
- Past incidences of mental illness, especially major depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia (psychosis can be a side effect of each)
- A diagnosis for a substance use disorder that preceded meth dependency (cannabis dependency is a particular risk)
- Exposure to sexual, physical, or emotional abuse in childhood (or later in life if the abuse was especially intense)
Having a previous incidence of meth-induced psychosis is itself a risk factor, since psychotic episodes will occasionally recur in recovering meth addicts who’ve experienced them in the past.
In virtually every instance, men and women who develop psychosis following methamphetamine use will be addicted to the drug. Many sufferers use other drugs (or alcohol) in addition to meth, and even if meth is their primary drug of abuse their treatment and rehabilitation should emphasize the importance of full and total sobriety.
Since drug abuse is often a coping strategy for people suffering the effects of mental illness, meth-induced psychosis is frequently diagnosed in those who have co-occurring mental disorders. Personality disorders and mood disorders co-occur with methamphetamine and related psychosis quite often, as does obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Mental health professionals who work with meth-induced psychosis patients expect to find other mental and behavioral health disorders, and when such conditions are present comprehensive treatment programs that address all symptoms in their entirety will be recommended.
Treatment and Prognosis of Meth-Induced Psychosis
As a complex condition with multiple aspects, meth-induced psychosis must be treated in stages.
Before any type of formal treatment can begin, people who’ve been abusing methamphetamine, or a combination of drugs that includes meth, must go through supervised medical detox to break the hold of their addiction. During detox, the symptoms of psychosis will be carefully monitored to ensure they don’t put the patient at risk or inhibit safe and managed withdrawal from drug dependency.
After detox is complete, a period of psychiatric hospitalization may be necessary. This is common for people suffering severe psychotic symptoms, and services will continue to be offered in a hospital setting until the psychosis is under control and the patient is ready to transition to an inpatient dual diagnosis treatment program.
Inpatient treatment for meth addiction and associated psychosis will include some combination of intensive individual psychotherapy, group therapy, family counseling sessions, administration of medication and management of its usage (antipsychotics are normally prescribed for psychosis patients), life skills classes, and holistic healing practices like meditation, yoga, art and music therapy, massage therapy, and acupuncture.
Such a program will likely be offered for up to 90 days, although longer stays can be arranged if deemed necessary for the health of the patient. Once patients finish inpatient treatment, they may continue to receive outpatient services in coordination with the mental health treatment center that provided inpatient services, or they may return to their home communities for aftercare services if that is their preference.
To be effective, treatment programs for meth addiction and meth-induced psychosis must be comprehensive, multileveled, and designed to prevent relapse and preserve long-term recovery. Such programs are available in many treatment centers, and their record of success is excellent when patients are truly committed to overcoming their mental health challenges.