- What Is
- Drug-Induced Psychosis
- Early Schizophrenia
- Schizophrenia Relapse
- Can It Go Away?
What is drug-induced schizophrenia?
Drug-induced psychosis can last anywhere from a few hours or days to a few weeks. A schizophrenic episode triggered by drug use can take months to stabilize.
Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that causes psychosis: a state where you have extremely muddled thinking and trouble knowing what’s real. It also causes a lack of interest in activities, a lack of emotions, poor self-care and hygiene, and withdrawal from people and the world.
Drug-induced schizophrenia occurs when you experience schizophrenia symptoms after using drugs: i.e., drug-induced psychosis.
Drug-induced psychosis is the more precise term because drugs can cause general psychosis, but they don't directly cause schizophrenia. You either have schizophrenia first or you're susceptible to it, and using drugs can trigger symptom onset. Drug use can also worsen your symptoms or trigger a relapse.
Psychosis is a break from reality where you have hallucinations and delusions. You see and hear things that others don’t and believe things that aren’t true. Drug-induced psychosis happens when you take too much of a drug, mix different drugs together, or go through withdrawal.
The drugs lead to toxicity, which alters your brain chemicals and causes paranoia and a psychotic episode.
Substances that often cause drug-induced psychosis include:
- Psychedelics like LSD or ecstasy
Drug abuse triggers early schizophrenia
Experts don’t know exactly what causes schizophrenia. It’s likely a combination of genetics, trauma, and your environment, which affect your brain chemicals and structure. Studies show, though, that if you misuse mind-altering drugs, you have a higher risk of triggering schizophrenia. This is especially true if you’re susceptible to the condition and use drugs as a teenager.
Drug abuse triggers schizophrenia relapse
If you’re recovering from a schizophrenic episode and severe psychosis, using drugs and alcohol can also trigger a relapse. Alcohol and street drugs can make your schizophrenia symptoms seem better, but this relief is only temporary, and, over time, they will worsen your illness and symptoms.
What are the symptoms of drug-induced schizophrenia?
Symptoms of drug-induced psychosis usually come on slowly as you use more drugs more often. The longer you abuse substances and the more intense the abuse, the higher the risk of getting psychosis. Symptoms can vary by the drug.
Some substances, like the hallucinogen LSD, cause you to see, hear, and feel things that don’t exist because you’re high. Substance-induced psychosis and hallucinations consist of more than being high, though, and can happen when you’re not using drugs. Symptoms are linked to taking large amounts of these drugs for a long time.
- Hearing voices, like someone narrating your actions, or someone telling you to hurt yourself
- Seeing people, shadows, or lights that aren’t there
- Hearing sounds, like music playing or footsteps following you
- Feeling bugs on your skin
- Smelling things that aren’t there
- Feeling like your body is floating or moving
Delusions occur when you firmly believe something that’s not real. These are hallmarks of schizophrenia that can coincide with drug-induced psychosis.
- Self-important beliefs where you believe you’re famous or you’re the president of a country
- Religious delusions where you believe you are a revered spiritual figure
- Bizarre beliefs, including ideas that people are planting thoughts in your mind or that you can raise people from the dead
- Beliefs that explain your hallucinations, like believing that someone is stalking you because you hear voices
Paranoia is when you think or feel someone is trying to threaten or harm you when they’re not. It causes worry, stress, and fear. These thoughts are described as delusions or exaggerated suspicions. Drug toxicity often causes persecutory or paranoid delusions, but these also occur with schizophrenia, and drugs can make these symptoms worse.
Examples of common paranoid beliefs include suspicions that:
- Someone is trying to hurt you
- Other people are talking about you or excluding you
- The government is controlling you
- People are trying to steal your belongings
Can drug-induced schizophrenia go away?
You can recover from drug-induced psychosis. It usually goes away within a few days but may also last a few weeks. If it lasts longer than 4 weeks, your doctor will consider a diagnosis of schizophrenia. A severe schizophrenic episode can take 12 months to stabilize, and it never fully goes away.
Do not be discouraged, though. Most people with schizophrenia live a full and rewarding life with treatment and help.
However, if you use street drugs and alcohol, you will have periods of worsened symptoms and relapses.
How is drug-induced schizophrenia treated?
In most cases of drug-induced psychosis, all you need is a calm environment, time to recover, and sometimes medication. Your doctor will need to watch you closely and monitor any toxicity and withdrawal symptoms. If you have schizophrenia, long-term medication and addiction treatment are also important for your health.
If you need medication for drug-induced psychosis, your doctor will prescribe benzodiazepines or an antipsychotic. Once symptoms pass, you might not need any other treatment.
If you’re diagnosed with schizophrenia, however, you will need antipsychotic medication even after symptoms pass. Schizophrenia is a lifelong disorder, and medication helps control your symptoms so you can stay independent. If you have a severe relapse or episode, you might need to be hospitalized until you feel better.
Treatment for substance-use disorder
Sometimes, people with schizophrenia use street drugs or drink alcohol because you can get them easily, they’re affordable, and they temporarily make you feel better. These can trigger relapses, though, and make your schizophrenia worse over time.
It’s important to avoid using alcohol and drugs and to get treatment for substance use disorder. This might include hospital treatment, medication, or rehab and therapy.
Drugs don’t cause schizophrenia, but they can trigger a relapse or early onset of the disease if you already have it. If you use drugs and alcohol, you have a high risk of making your schizophrenia worse. Talk to your doctor about managing substance misuse and schizophrenia.
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American Addiction Centers: "Substance Induced Psychosis: Signs & Treatment Near Me."
American Journal of Psychiatry: "Substance-Induced Psychotic Disorders and Schizophrenia: Pathophysiological Insights and Clinical Implications."
Mayo Clinic: "Schizophrenia."
Merck Manual Professional Version: "Substance-/Medication-Induced Psychotic Disorder."
Mind: "What is paranoia?"
National Health Service: "Causes — Schizophrenia," "Hallucinations and hearing voices," "Living with — Schizophrenia," "Treatment — Schizophrenia," "Symptoms — Psychosis."
Pharmacy and Therapeutics: "Schizophrenia: Overview and Treatment Options."
Priory: "Drug Induced Psychosis: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment."
Schizophrenia Society of Canada: "Schizophrenia & Substance Use."
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