How to Recognize Drug-Related Psychosis

Colorful capsulesDrug-induced psychosis is an ordinary and usually temporary mental health symptom. Psychosis is a disconnection from reality that can cause false beliefs called hallucinations or a false sensory experience called hallucinations. Psychosis can occur when a person uses drugs or as part of a drug withdrawal process.

Psychotic symptoms associated with drug use can be intense and tend to come out more suddenly and aggressively than psychosis associated with a mental health diagnosis such as schizophrenia.

It may be difficult to distinguish psychosis-induced psychosis from other forms of psychosis. This is due to the fact that many people with diagnoses that cause psychosis can also use drugs.

A 2009 study found that 5.2% to 100% of amphetamine, cannabis, cocaine and opioid users experienced psychosis. Most frequent users and those with more severe drug addiction were more likely to experience psychosis.

Symptoms of drug-induced psychosis

Many drugs, especially hallucinogens like LSD, cause hallucinations and illusions. Drug-induced psychosis is a more serious form of these hallucinations. It may suddenly appear to a drug user who has never experienced psychosis or can deteriorate steadily over time. Psychosis can also occur during drug withdrawal, especially in users with a long history of abuse and addiction.

Any drug that changes brain chemistry, including drugs that usually do not cause hallucinations as part of the "high", can cause psychosis. This includes prescription and non-prescription drugs as well as illicit drugs. Even widely used drugs such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can sometimes cause a psychotic reaction.

Alcohol, amphetamines, phencyclidine (PCP), cocaine and hallucinogens are among the most common causes of psychosis-induced drugs. Symptoms of drug psychosis include:

  • Paranoia and terrorism
  • Hallucinations. A person can see, smell or hear things that do not exist.
  • Doubts. A person can adopt proven false beliefs, such as what a demon wants them to do.
  • Dangerous behavior. A person can try to fly, to hurt himself because a voice told him to do it or to become a danger to others. Some people who suffer from psychosis become aggressive.
  • Disconnect from other people or from reality. A person may appear catapulted or retired.

Drug-related psychosis is distinguished from other forms of psychosis in some ways:

  • Appears under the influence or withdrawal from a drug.
  • It suddenly appears.
  • It is usually more intense than other forms of psychosis.

After psychosis has passed, treatment can focus on helping a person recover from drug abuse and dependence.

Some people have mixed psychosis. This occurs when a person has a psychosis-induced condition, such as schizophrenia, and then develops psychotic symptoms from drug use. It can be difficult to treat this form of psychosis and doctors can fight to determine what symptoms are due to drugs and which are due to an underlying mental health state.

People with an underlying condition that may cause psychosis may be more likely to experience drug-related psychosis.

How long does drug-induced psychosis last?

Drug-induced psychosis typically lasts only until the drug is removed from the body. Thus, heavy drug users may experience longer-lasting symptoms because there is more to the medicine in their bodies. In most cases, psychosis lasts less than one day.

When amphetamines, PCP or cocaine cause psychosis, the symptoms may last longer – sometimes for several weeks. Long-term psychosis may also be due to an underlying mental health condition, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Rarely, drugs can change the brain, damaging the neurons or altering the levels of neurotransmitters. This can cause mental diagnoses such as bipolar or schizophrenic. The mechanism by which drugs cause psychiatric disorders associated with psychosis is not understood. In addition, because many people with mental health diagnoses use drugs, it is difficult for researchers to assess what mental health conditions occur only after drug use and as a result of drug use.

Treatment of Psychosis-induced Psychosis: Recovery

Treatment for drug-induced psychosis usually results in discontinuation of the psychosis-induced drug and then monitoring the individual in a safe and tranquil environment. Anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines can help with many symptoms of psychosis-induced medication. Antipsychotics can also help, especially when dopamine-inducing drugs, such as amphetamines, cause a psychotic episode.

It is not always necessary to give a drug to compensate for psychosis. As long as they are in a safe environment, careful waiting is sometimes the best strategy, especially when a person has taken a hallucinogenic drug such as LSD or psilocybin mushrooms. Cyndi Turner, LCSW, LSATP, MAC underscores the importance of security in assessing a condition that involves drug-induced psychosis and explains how to help someone who could experience it:

Safety is the most important factor to be taken into account when one experiences drug-induced psychosis. We need to assess the person's risk: What do they see, hear or experience? Will they hurt themselves? Is there a health risk such as increased heart rate or seizure? Who can stay with them until the effects of the drug have passed? Verify how frightened the person may be and inform him / her that this is unlikely to be a permanent state. Although it may feel real to them, it does not actually happen. Once the drug clears their system, they usually return to normal operation.

After psychosis passes, treatment revolves around helping the person recover from drug abuse and dependence. Hospital treatment, support groups, treatment, medication for underlying mental illness, and a supportive environment without drugs can help a person abandon drug use and avoid future drug-induced episodes.

When prescription drugs cause drug-induced psychosis, it is important to find an alternative medication – especially when the drug handles a serious medical condition such as a cardiovascular disorder. People with a history of drug-induced mental illness should inform doctors and pharmacists about their background, as a psychotic episode may mean that a person is in danger of having future incidents.

A Mental Health Approach to Drug-Related Psychotherapy

For many, drug-induced psychosis is a short-term condition. It can be scary and may even damage relationships, especially if a person makes decisions with a rash or becomes abusive due to psychosis. Treatment can help people repair the harm of psychosocial disease.

The right therapist can also help a person talk through the issues that led to drug use. For example, an individual may use amphetamines to cope with the low motivation of depression or rely on cocaine to smooth out the pain of the wound. Treatment can also help people overcome drugs and find healthier treatment mechanisms.

Occasionally, drug-induced psychosis signifies a severe underlying psychotic disorder, such as schizophrenia. When psychotic symptoms do not disappear within a day or two, it is important to see a psychiatrist or neurologist who can assess a patient for mental illness, neurological disorders and other diagnoses that can lead to psychosis. Treating these conditions usually means a combination of medications, lifestyle changes and treatment. In therapy, a person can learn to wonder about hallucinations and hallucinations, to establish themselves in reality and to deal with any relationship and career challenges that live with psychosis.

Bibliographical references:

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