Methamphetamines are potent stimulants that produce a rush. Users smoke, swallow, snort or shoot it up for the euphoria. Others, for the energy, or for a boost during finals, or to slash appetite.
The good feelings that meth produces, however, can quickly give way to agitation, panic, and anger.
In the worst cases, using meth can lead to suicidal or homicidal thoughts or a meth-induced psychosis.
Psychosis occurs when a person loses their grip on reality and is often referred to as a psychotic episode.
During psychotic episodes, people struggle to recognize what is real and what is imagined, and it’s not an illness. Rather, it’s a symptom of an illness and can be caused by mental disorders, genetics, trauma, an injury (like a stroke or dementia), or substance use.
How a person perceives the world around them can be distorted. They may struggle to determine what is real and what is not. Psychosis most often manifests in hallucinations or delusions:
- Hallucinations are when people see, hear, or feel things that aren’t there.
- Delusions are strong, irrational thoughts. A person may believe an outside force is controlling their thoughts, or that they have special powers, or can do godlike things.
People experiencing a psychotic episode may also experience depression, anxiety, sleep troubles, social withdrawal, and have trouble handling day-to-day functioning.
Methamphetamine-induced psychosis can occur among both chronic and recreational users. The symptoms can be mistaken for schizophrenia, and there does seem to be some overlap between meth psychosis and schizophrenia, but there’s no clear evidence of cause-and-effect.
What Causes Meth Psychosis?
Many questions surround methamphetamine use, psychosis, and schizophrenia.
Can meth cause schizophrenia? Not exactly, but certain people are more at risk. Does meth make you paranoid? It definitely can.
Methamphetamine raises the amount of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that affects movement, motivation, and reward receptors. Like other illicit drugs, methamphetamine’s ability to create a surge in dopamine levels is what creates that chemical euphoria and makes it hard to quit the habit.
The excess dopamine is what’s thought to be the culprit behind psychosis. While the causes of psychosis and schizophrenia remain a mystery, medications that block dopamine receptors are useful in treating schizophrenia.
Hallucinations and delusions are possible in any user, but for someone with a family history of schizoid personality disorders, even one dose can be risky.
Signs and Symptoms of Meth Psychosis
It’s long been thought meth can induce a psychotic state.
Meth’s addictive qualities and effects are no secret. One former user writes about her psychotic episodes while on meth — they included visions of miniature people dancing on furniture, beliefs that she had to battle shape-shifting wizards, and thoughts that dogs were barking secret messages to her.
She also writes about her husband’s psychotic breakdown after he took one dose. He has a family history of schizoid disorders. He spent months going in and out of psych wards, unable to tell what was real from what was imagined.
Psychosis seems more common for longtime users. Meth addicts have been found to be three times more likely to have psychotic symptoms over casual users. Regular users are 11 times more likely. Beginning use at a younger age also raises the risk. Typically, psychosis may occur after about a year and a half of use.
Crystal meth users seem to report more psychotic symptoms compared to people who use other types of meth.
How Long Does Meth Psychosis Last?
Meth’s psychotic effects are about five times more likely to occur while a person is high. The longer the use, the greater the chance for meth hallucinations and delusions.
Once a user stops meth, many symptoms of psychosis usually start to subside. It can take a month or more, however. Some people still experience forms of psychosis six months after quitting. Other studies have found symptoms that can linger for years. Talk to a Intake Coordinator
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Meth Psychosis Treatment
Depending on the person, meth-induced psychosis might require inpatient psychiatric treatment or some kind of intervention.
Sometimes it may be hard to tell if it’s a primary psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia, or if the psychosis is due to meth use. Drug testing and a thorough examination can answer most of those questions and be used to shape a treatment plan.
There is no specific drug to treat methamphetamine addiction in itself, but antipsychotics may be prescribed to help with hallucinations and delusions. Benzodiazepines such as Xanax or Valium may control the anxiety and agitation a person feels during detox (detoxification) from methamphetamine.
If there are co-occurring disorders such as depression, they can be addressed at the same time a person receives treatment for addiction. Behavioral therapies may help with psychotic episodes and work very well for treating meth addiction itself.
Cognitive behavioral treatments (CBT) which combline counseling, education, 12-step (or comparable) support, drug testing, and the encouragement of non drug-related habits have proven successful. Contingency management, which offers incentives for staying in treatment and keeping sober, also works.
The best approach is ultimately: don’t use meth, or quit early.
- drugabuse.gov – What Is Methamphetamine?
- nimh.nih.gov – What Is Psychosis?
- nami.org – Psychosis
- ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – A Comparison of Methamphetamine-Induced Psychosis and Schizophrenia: A Review of Positive, Negative, and Cognitive Symptomatology
- ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Methamphetamine Psychosis: Epidemiology and Management
- drugabuse.gov – Methamphetamine
- scientificamerican.com – What Happens to the Body and Brain of Individuals with Schizophrenia?
- vice.com – This Is What Meth-Induced Psychosis Feels Like
- ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – The Methamphetamine Problem in the United States
- drugabuse.gov – What Treatments are Effective for People Who Misuse Methamphetamine?
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Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.
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