Drug-Induced Schizophrenia: Triggers, Symptoms and Treatment

Drug-Induced Schizophrenia

People often use the term “drug-induced schizophrenia” to refer to the psychotic symptoms a person develops after acute or long-term drug abuse. Although these symptoms mimic true schizophrenia, this occurrence is actually drug-induced psychosis, which is a different disorder entirely.

Since drug-induced psychosis symptoms are nearly identical to those of schizophrenia, it helps to understand both mental illnesses. Below, we’ll explain each mental illness, including what might cause them and the outlook after a diagnosis.

What Is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a mental illness that causes symptoms mostly related to reality distortion. These symptoms can include hallucinations, disorganized thinking and unusual behavior, but they all boil down to experiencing a different reality than most people do.

Contrary to popular belief, schizophrenia doesn’t usually make people dangerous to others. Instead, people with mental health conditions like schizophrenia are more likely to be a danger to themselves or suffer abuse at the hands of another.

What Is Drug-Induced Schizophrenia?

As mentioned earlier, drug-induced schizophrenia isn’t true schizophrenia but instead drug-induced psychosis. Psychosis is a break from reality that can make someone see, hear or smell things that aren’t there. They may also begin believing things that aren’t true. The onset of psychotic symptoms can be sudden or can develop slowly over time.

Schizophrenia vs. Drug-Induced Psychosis

The primary difference between drug-induced psychosis and schizophrenia is the duration of symptoms. A schizophrenia diagnosis is only made if symptoms last more than six months and continue once a person stops drug use. Drug-induced psychosis symptoms should last less than six months and stop within days (or weeks) of ceasing drug use.

A few other minor differences exist between these two mental health conditions. Below, you can delve deeper into the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment and outlook of drug-induced psychosis and true schizophrenia.

Symptoms

Drug-induced psychosis and schizophrenia symptoms are identical, which may be one of the reasons people often confuse the two. Symptoms of either condition may include:

  • Delusions: A person believes things that can be proven to be untrue or highly unlikely. For example, a person with delusions may think they’re a superhero with powers or that the government is tracking their every move.
  • Hallucinations: Someone experiences things that aren’t there. This symptom could mean hearing voices, smelling scents or seeing things that don’t exist to the average person. For example, a person with hallucinations may hear disembodied voices when nobody else is in the room or see shadowy images at the corners of their vision. Some hallucinations might be more vivid than others.
  • Unusual behavior: Acting unusual for themselves, the situation or both. For example, a person with drug-induced psychosis or schizophrenia may appear abnormally angry, paranoid, aggressive, withdrawn or frightened. Unusual behavior often includes (or stems from) changes in thinking and may be related to delusions or hallucinations experienced.
  • Other symptoms: Although they aren’t primary schizophrenia or substance-induced psychosis symptoms, other symptoms may indicate a person has one of these psychotic disorders. Other symptoms may include trouble at work, failing relationships, weight loss, weight gain, disheveled appearance, self-harm, suicidal thoughts or sleep troubles. These other symptoms may help confirm a diagnosis when they appear alongside delusions, hallucinations or unusual behavior.

Causes

Substance-induced psychosis is caused by using illicit substances. Sometimes excessive drug use may cause a psychotic episode, while other times a particular drug may be the cause. For example, drugs such as amphetamines, LSD, cocaine, PCP and opioids are known to cause psychotic episodes. Cannabis and alcohol may also increase the likelihood of psychotic symptoms.

On the other hand, it can be challenging to determine what causes schizophrenia. Research shows that genetics and a person’s brain chemistry play a role. It’s also thought malnutrition and exposure to some viruses before birth could contribute. Additionally, using drugs during the teen and early adult years may increase a person’s likelihood of developing schizophrenia. However, it’s important to note that this isn’t the same as drug-induced schizophrenia.

Diagnosis

No official tests exist to diagnose drug-induced psychosis or schizophrenia. When professionals suspect substance-induced psychotic disorders, they generally watch and wait to see if symptoms continue after any illicit drugs have left the person’s system. If symptoms cease, they often make a diagnosis of drug-induced schizophrenia.

If symptoms don’t disappear, medical professionals generally assume that schizophrenia was always an underlying mental illness. In these situations, drug abuse is thought to have exacerbated or triggered the schizophrenia symptoms.

Treatment

The symptoms of drug-induced schizophrenia are first treated by focusing on the underlying drug addiction. Detoxing is generally the first choice, and inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment services may follow. While the psychosis is still active, dual diagnosis treatment that may include an antipsychotic medication is typically pursued.

Through medical detox, a person with a substance-induced psychotic disorder will generally find their symptoms lessen within hours of ceasing the drug causing it. Within days (or, at most, weeks), they should regain their connection with reality.

People with schizophrenia will most often be prescribed antipsychotic medication to help them manage their symptoms. They must take this medication for the rest of their lives, and it may be paired with other therapies.

Outlook

The outlook for people suffering from drug-induced psychoses is excellent. In most cases, symptoms go away within days of ceasing drug use. However, certain types of drug use may take several weeks to see improvement in symptoms. Examples of these types of drugs include cocaine, PCP and amphetamines.

Unfortunately, the outlook for people with schizophrenia isn’t as good. Research suggests that those with schizophrenia have a lower life expectancy than the general population, although experts aren’t sure how or why this is. The leading cause of death in those with schizophrenia is suicide. If you or someone you love has suicidal thoughts, you should call 911 immediately or text TALK to 741741 to speak with a trained crisis counselor.

When to Contact a Doctor

Regardless of the cause, anyone experiencing psychosis symptoms should seek medical attention as soon as possible. Some signs to look for in yourself or a loved one include:

  • Suddenly seeing, hearing, smelling or experiencing things that other people don’t
  • Believing things that other people don’t (and that are unlikely to be true)
  • Perception of reality that’s altered in any way
  • Changes in behavior (especially after drug use)
  • Unexplained paranoia or anxiety

It’s important to note that unexplained paranoia and anxiety are different than having rational fears, even if those fears are more than what others think is normal. For example, having an intense fear of parking garages and dark alleyways isn’t unexplained because there’s a reason for it. On the other hand, having an intense fear that something only you can hear or see is stalking you is an irrational or unexplained fear.

Getting Help After Drug-Induced Schizophrenia

If you or a loved one have experienced drug-induced psychosis, it’s vital to seek professional assistance. Only a professional can determine whether drug abuse or schizophrenia symptoms from a serious chronic mental health disorder caused the psychotic episode. Professionals can also help you get treatment for your substance abuse.

To get help today, call (888) 995-5265. Our highly trained, empathetic associates in our Boynton Beach detox center are ready to answer any questions you may have and help you determine the best treatment for your drug-induced psychosis and substance abuse.

 

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