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Drug-induced psychosis

Psychosis is a mental health problem which temporarily causes someone to interpret the world differently from those around them. Drug-induced psychosis, also known as ‘stimulant psychosis’, refers to any psychotic episode which has been caused by abuse of stimulants, an adverse reaction to prescription drugs, or excessive use of alcohol which has directly triggered a psychotic reaction.

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Psychosis is often characterised by delusions or hallucinations, which are experiences that are far removed from reality. Delusions are irrational beliefs that a person holds, even when they are presented with evidence that contradicts these beliefs. Delusions may include believing that you have a serious or life-threatening physical illness, that you are responsible for terrible things happening to other people, or that you are bankrupt when you are not. Hallucinations refer to intense sensory perceptions of phenomena that are not real, and are characterised by individuals vividly feeling, seeing or hearing things that do not truly exist.

Drugs such as cocaine, cannabis and hallucinogens can worsen symptoms of existing mental illnesses, whilst taking such substances for a long period of time can also see you develop symptoms of psychosis, including paranoia. If you are diagnosed with drug-induced psychosis and have a dependency on alcohol or drugs, you may have what is called a dual diagnosis, whereby your underlying mental illness will need to be treated independently of any substance addiction.

At Priory, our nationwide network of hospitals and wellbeing centres provide highly flexible, specialist treatment to treat both underlying mental health disorders and drug or alcohol abuse across two separate treatment plans, created specifically with your needs in mind. Treatment for underlying psychiatric disorders such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia will involve a combination of talking therapies and medication designed to reduce symptoms, while substance abuse treatment can include withdrawal and detox plans within a safe and understanding environment. 

What causes someone to develop drug-induced psychosis?

Drug-induced psychosis can happen when you take too much of a certain drug, so that its level of toxicity provokes paranoia and a psychotic episode. It can also occur when if you have an adverse reaction from mixing different substances, or withdrawing from a drug, prescribed or otherwise. You may already have underlying mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, where delusions and hallucinations are associated symptoms, with psychotic episodes resulting from substance use, indicating that you may be prone to psychosis.

If your psychosis has been triggered through drug use in order to cope with underlying mental illness, a diagnosis would need to determine whether symptoms would continue without the drug present, as this would not be drug-related psychosis. Drug-induced psychosis is more apparent when your symptoms wear off after you have stopped using the drug, while the initial symptoms such as social withdrawal and lack of motivation may gradually build to include delusions or hallucinations.

Treatment for drug-induced psychosis at Priory

If you are diagnosed with drug-induced psychosis, it is vitally important that you seek treatment from specialist medical professionals. Priory’s experienced therapists and consultants are trained in treating drug-induced psychosis, and can offer you a safe and understanding treatment environment as part of a bespoke treatment plan, which is aimed at reducing associated symptoms of psychosis and drug addiction, before targeting any underlying health issues which may have been triggered by substance abuse.

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Medically assisted withdrawal detoxification programme

When treating drug-induced psychosis, the first step towards recovery must include termination of use of the drug which initially caused the episode. The medically assisted withdrawal detoxification programme at Priory will also ensure that you have no further interaction with drugs that could be habit forming or that could interfere with the drug being abused, with carefully selected drugs helping with symptoms of withdrawal only.  

During the detox process, you will also have access to therapeutic sessions where you will learn how to manage withdrawal symptoms, and also prepare techniques for remaining drug-free after treatment. Residential secondary care programmes are available after detox, which can further help your transition and acquire healthy habits to help support clean living.

Treatment for co-occurring conditions

While removal of the drug from your system may remove symptoms of psychosis, if you have an underlying mental health condition such as anxiety or depression which prompted excessive use of a drug, or you have also been diagnosed with an existing psychotic disorder such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, further treatment will be required to address these conditions.

Therapies and medication can be offered on an inpatient, outpatient or day care basis depending on your circumstances, and may include:

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) - once you have been medically stabilised, the practical and problem-solving talking therapy, Cognitive behavioural therapy, can help you to learn more about the thoughts and moods that you experience before psychotic episodes occur, helping you to manage your emotions and paranoia more readily, and be aware of triggers.

If a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression exists, which has been masked by extensive use of drugs or alcohol to the point of psychosis, then CBT can help you to learn techniques to cope with and reduce associated symptoms so as to prevent relapse.

Family therapy - due to the serious nature of drug-induced psychosis and associated psychotic conditions, family therapy involving those closest to you, can help to ensure that there is sufficient support available at home to prevent relapse and manage associated symptoms, potentially reducing the need for extensive hospital treatment.

Anti-psychotic medication – if your underlying mental health condition features psychotic episodes as a symptom, then antidepressant, anti-psychotic or other medications such as clozapine (Clozaril) may be recommended for an extended period of time, particularly if delusions and hallucinations are frequent or particularly severe.

You can read more about the different treatment options that we offer at Priory, by accessing our approach to addiction treatment and approach to mental health treatment pages.

This page was reviewed by Stephanie Chick (FDAP) in July 2020, and is scheduled to be reviewed again in July 2022. To view all Priory drug-induced psychosis specialists, please click here.

What is drug-induced psychosis?
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What are the signs and symptoms of drug-induced psychosis?
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What triggers drug-induced psychosis?
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