Technically, there is no such thing as drug-induced schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a chronic mental health condition, and although the use of certain drugs is associated with triggering symptoms, substance abuse does not directly cause schizophrenia. In fact, research suggests that a combination of physical, biological, psychological, and environmental factors all come into play and can make an individual more likely to develop the disorder.
However, psychotic symptoms that resemble schizophrenia, such as hallucinations and delusions, can be caused by drug use. These are usually temporary, however, and abstinence from substances is often enough to ensure these effects subside and are less likely to reoccur.
What Is Schizophrenia?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), schizophrenia is a chronic mental illness that is characterized by the following:
- Bizarre or dysfunctional thoughts
- Impaired focus and decision-making
- Reduced feelings of pleasure
- Difficulty understanding information
- Impaired working memory
Symptoms of schizophrenia usually manifest between the age of 16 to 30, but uncommonly, children may also exhibit some signs of the disorder. Several risk factors make some people more vulnerable to developing the condition than others. These include genetic and environmental factors as well as brain chemistry. The Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America (SARDAA) asserts that schizophrenia affects an estimated 1.1% of people worldwide, and 3.5 million individuals in the U.S. have been diagnosed with the disorder.
What Is Drug-Induced Psychosis?
Although different psychoactive drugs affect the brain in various ways, they all affect it in some way, and using too much of a drug or combining substances can lead to a psychotic reaction. Drugs that can contribute to or induce psychosis include alcohol, amphetamines, cocaine, hallucinogens, marijuana, opioids, and sedative-hypnotics.
Psychosis is a state of mind hallmarked by the inability to separate thoughts, perceptions, and reality. Drug-induced psychosis is characterized by mostly visual hallucinations and delusions that cause a shift in the person’s consciousness. This makes it challenging for him or her to differentiate between what is real and what is a manifestation of their own mind.
Some people use certain substances specifically for their hallucinogenic properties, while others encounter hallucinations or delusions as an adverse side effect of a drug they used for another purpose. For instance, psychedelics are a class of drugs that people use for their ability to cause hallucinations and alter perceptions, and includes LSD, magic mushrooms, and mescaline, among others. Cocaine, on the other hand, can also cause hallucinations, but people seldom use it for this reason.
It’s important to note that although psychosis typically includes hallucinations and delusions, the presence of these in and of themselves does not equal psychosis. Many people who use LSD or other psychedelic drugs experience these effects but not full-blown psychosis, which is also characterized by an inability to differentiate reality from imagination. In other words, people who are using these drugs most often understand that what they are seeing or hearing is not real but just an unusual effect.
The Duration of Schizophrenia Symptoms
Schizophrenia is a condition that usually requires ongoing treatment. For many, the intensity of symptoms will wax and wane throughout their entire lives. The four stages of schizophrenia include the following:
Prodromal Phase – In this early stage, symptoms are easy to overlook. Individuals will typically encounter symptoms common to other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, mood swings, sleep disturbances, irritability, and anger. Also, young people going through puberty can experience many of these same symptoms, and the condition may go unnoticed. This phase can sometimes persist for years, and because symptoms aren’t obviously related to schizophrenia, the person may go undiagnosed while they continue to experience mood disturbances, fear, and hostility without knowing why.
Acute Phase – During the acute/active phase of schizophrenia, individuals will begin to encounter hallucinations, delusions, and confusing thoughts. These symptoms are comparable to those related to drug-induced psychosis. The acute phase can onset gradually or abruptly and may require hospitalization if symptoms cause an intense psychotic episode. The acute phase typically lasts for one to two months.
Remission – With treatment, symptoms can improve, and individuals will enter the remission phase. Treatment often involves a combination of therapy and medications designed to reduce psychotic symptoms.
Relapse – Relapse is common among people with schizophrenia. If they go off their medication or begin to require a stronger dose or different approach, they start the cycle all over again. Still, symptoms often get less intense over time. Some people experience fewer relapses as they get older until symptoms disappear altogether, while others need long-term treatment and maintenance for the rest of their lives.
Is There a Cure for Schizophrenia?
Though some people with schizophrenia may eventually stop relapsing after going into remission, schizophrenia is usually a lifelong disorder for most who experience it, and there is no single cure. As noted, antipsychotic medication is the go-to treatment because it can very effectively mitigate symptoms and enable people to function normally. In fact, not taking medication as directed is by far the most common reason why people with schizophrenia relapse.
Curing Drug-Induced Psychosis
Technically, there is no cure for drug-induced psychosis because it is not a disease in the conventional sense. Instead, it is an acute problem that really needs no other approach than to wait for the drug to leave a person’s system and to avoid drug use from that point forward. With heavy use, however, cocaine, amphetamines, and sometimes alcohol can cause psychotic symptoms that persist long after a person has gotten sober.
Getting Treatment for Drug Abuse
While some people use drugs such as LSD for their hallucinogenic properties, the experience of a full break from reality is not normal and, if encountered, should be addressed immediately. Some drugs, including stimulants like methamphetamine, might cause psychosis if used excessively or for a prolonged period. Still, in general, drug-induced psychosis is relatively rare when placed in the context of the many people who use drugs on a regular basis.
Fortunately, drug-induced psychosis is very treatable, and abuse and/or addition to substances can be addressed simultaneously using a medical detox and a comprehensive, long-term treatment plan. Programs intended to treat these problems should include evidence-based services, such as psychotherapy, counseling, group support, medication-assisted treatment, and aftercare planning.
What’s more, using an integrated approach to treatment, co-occurring mental health disorders should be addressed as well, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, schizophrenia, etc.
Harmony Treatment and Wellness offers these treatment modalities and more in partial hospitalization and outpatient formats. We employ highly-trained, caring staff to facilitate services to the patient with compassion and expertise. We aim to provide our patients with all the tools they need to achieve a full recovery and go on to sustain long-lasting sobriety, happiness, and wellness.
If you suspect that you or someone you know has had drug-induced psychosis or substance abuse or addiction, we urge you to contact us today! We can help you get started on the road to recovery, one step at a time!