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Stimulant Psychosis: Recognize the Signs (& What to Do)

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Stimulants give many people the staying power to do things they want or need to do. They boost users’ alertness and give them more energy to get things done, whether that’s working on a term paper, pulling long hours at a demanding job, or partying all night. Sometimes, stimulants are used to aid in weight loss or suppress one’s appetite.

Stimulants are psychoactive drugs designed to speed up the central nervous system.

Whether legal or illegal, these drugs, known as “uppers,” boost activity in the brain and activate its pleasure receptors. Legal stimulants include caffeine, nicotine, and legal prescription drugs, such as Adderall and Ritalin. Illegal street drugs such as cocainebath salts, and crystal methamphetamine are also stimulants. All of these drugs are commonly abused, and such abuse can lead to physical and psychological dependence or addiction.

People abuse stimulants for various reasons. Often, users chase a high that happens when the brain is overexcited. The physical effects of stimulant use can show up within minutes after a substance is taken. Immediate effects of these drugs include:

  • Sped-up heart rate
  • Increased energy
  • Increased focus, concentration
  • Intense happiness (euphoria)
  • A heightened state of alertness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Disturbed sleep (insomnia)
  • Erratic behavior
  • Showing sensitivity to light, sound, or touch

Regular use of these drugs can be habit-forming and harm the body and brain. Chronic users should be aware that consuming stimulants regularly is dangerous. It floods the brain with too much of the chemical dopamine. While this sensation feels good to some users, the damage is being done, and some of that damage may be hard to undo.

The brain will no longer feel like it can produce dopamine on its own, so it will rely on an outside drug to do the job. This is problematic for several reasons. One reason is that should a user decide to quit using the stimulant, that decision likely means the person will start to experience uncomfortable, dangerous drug withdrawal symptoms. Such symptoms are so unbearable that they make some users pick up the drug again just to feel better. But that’s not the healthy way to address these symptoms.

This cycle of using and not using can end in overdose or death if the user takes too much of an addictive substance, especially after not using it for a certain time. Withdrawal is better managed with professional help.

STIMULANT USE CAN BRING ON PSYCHOSIS

Chronic stimulant abuse can lead users to a dark side that puts them and possibly others around them in danger. Taking too much of these potent drugs can lead to stimulant-induced psychosis. According to Healthline, “psychosis is characterized by an impaired relationship with reality.”

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines psychosis as “conditions that affect the mind, where there has been some loss of contact with reality.”

As reported by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), psychosis affects about 100,000 young people a year.

“As many as three in 100 people will have an episode at some point in their lives,” it writes.

NIMH reports that about 3 percent of people in the U.S., or 3 out of 100 people, will experience psychosis at some point in their lives.

People in psychosis are thinking and experiencing things that do not actually exist outside their view or perception.

These disruptions in a person’s thoughts and perceptions make it hard for the person to separate what’s really happening and what isn’t, NAMI explains.

“These disruptions are often experienced as seeing, hearing, and believing things that aren’t real or having strange, persistent thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. While everyone’s experience is different, most people say psychosis is frightening and confusing,” it writes.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF STIMULANT PSYCHOSIS?

If someone has been taking stimulants excessively or regularly and starts to display behavior that could indicate a disruption in their thoughts or perceptions, it is time to seek professional treatment right away.

Before doing so, though, you will need to recognize when stimulant-induced psychosis, also known as a psychotic episode, is happening. Healthline lists the symptoms of psychosis as:

  • Anxiety
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Depression
  • Disorganized speech, such as changing topics erratically
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions
  • Lack of sleep or oversleeping
  • Being suspicious
  • Isolation from family, friends

Two symptoms, in particular, are considered the main ones to be on the lookout for, and those are hallucinations and delusions. Here’s a closer look at these conditions.

HALLUCINATIONS

Hallucinations are when a person experiences sensations that aren’t real. Healthlinewrites that such sensations are created by a person’s mind. Hallucinations can affect all five senses, and they are categorized as such.

Visual hallucinations involve seeing things that aren’t there. These things can include people.

Auditory hallucinations involve hearing sounds that could be a person’s voice or sounds of different kinds.

Olfactory hallucinations occur when someone smells odors or scents that aren’t there.

Gustatory hallucinations involve a person’s sense of taste, and the person can find the taste strange or unpleasant, Healthline explains.

Tactile hallucinations involve feeling or touching things that aren’t real. It also involves feeling like there’s movement within the body. Some people who use crystal meth report feeling like bugs are crawling under their skin. According to Healthline, it could be a feeling of one’s internal organs are moving around. It is also possible for people who have tactile hallucinations to feel like someone is touching them.

Stimulant users who hallucinate should see a doctor immediately. A medical professional can help determine what’s causing the hallucinations as well as what the best treatment is.

DELUSIONS

Delusions are characteristic of what’s known as delusional disorder, a severe mental illness.

Delusions are “unshakable beliefs in something that isn’t true or based on reality,” as defined by WebMD. These beliefs remain unchanged, even if the person is presented with facts, according to NIMH.

There are different types of delusional disorder, as the Cleveland Clinic explains, which says the condition is rare. Among those are grandiose, when a person’s sense of worth, knowledge, or power are inflated, or somatic, which is when a person believes they have a health problem.

WebMD highlights the types of delusions here.

EARLY WARNING SIGNS

According to the NIMH, before a person develops psychosis, there are early signs that could indicate the condition is forming. These include:

  • Decline in self-care and personal hygiene
  • A steep drop in grades or job performance
  • Struggling to think clearly or concentrate
  • Displaying suspiciousness, paranoid ideas, or uneasiness with people
  • Jumbled speech or problems with communicating
  • Unusual or overly intense ideas
  • Displaying strange feelings or displaying no feelings at all

Heeding these early warning signs can help determine if a person will enter psychosis at some point.

WHEN TO GET HELP

Psychosis that occurs as a result of stimulant use or the use of any other addictive substances warrants your attention. It’s important to get treatment for both conditions. This is especially the case for people who are in active stimulant addiction.

Addiction is a brain disease that drives users to seek out harmful substances despite the consequences. It doesn’t resolve on its own and usually requires professional treatment. Without a treatment program, many will be left on their own to deal with addiction, withdrawal, and other unfavorable outcomes, such as overdose and death. Chronic or frequent stimulant use is a sure path to addiction.

If you or someone you know is unable to control stimulant use, treatment at a reputable facility that treats substance use disorders is your next step.

Psychosis may subside when stimulant use does. Or it may continue because of another underlying mental disorder that also needs to be treated. Either way, as NIMH explains, leaving psychosis untreated can disrupt life at work or school and strain relationships with family and friends. Most importantly, lives are at risk; the longer a person doesn’t get the necessary treatment.

“The longer the symptoms go untreated, the greater the risk of additional problems. These problems can include substance abuse, going to the emergency department, being admitted to the hospital, having legal trouble, or becoming homeless,” NIMH writes.

Effective treatment helps those who experience psychosis. It’s also important to get treatment for the person as early as possible. “In general, research has shown that treatments for psychosis work better when they are delivered closer to the time when symptoms first appear,” NIMH writes.

DUAL DIAGNOSIS

If it is realized that a stimulant user has a mental illness that a) either have not been diagnosed or b) not diagnosed correctly, then the best program is one that treats both conditions. Dual diagnosis, also known as comorbidity, is when a person has both a substance use disorder and a mental illness. It is very common for people to have both conditions. Some people use drugs and alcohol to cope with a mental disorder they may not know they have. Others know they have one but can’t afford to pay for the proper treatment.

An effective treatment program addresses both disorders at the same time so that the person can increase their chances of having a successful recovery. Treatment that begins with medical detox followed by therapy is recommended. The program designed will depend very much on the person who is receiving treatment.

Family Recovery Specialists can help you or your loved one leave stimulant use behind. Give us a call today or reach out to us online to see how our programs can help you.

Sources

“Psychosis: Symptoms, Causes, and Risk Factors.” Healthline, Healthline Media. from www.healthline.com/health/psychosis

“Early Psychosis and Psychosis.” NAMI. from ww.nami.org/earlypsychosis

“Everything You Need to Know About Hallucinations.” Healthline, Healthline Media. from www.healthline.com/health/hallucinations

“Delusional Disorder and Types of Delusions: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment.” WebMD. from www.webmd.com/schizophrenia/guide/delusional-disorder#1

“Delusional Disorder.” Cleveland Clinic. from my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9599-delusional-disorder

“Types of Delusions & Common Delusional Themes.” WebMD. from www.webmd.com/mental-health/delusions-types

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