Meth psychosis is a troubling symptom of meth use and addiction that can cause people to act unexpectedly and raises significant concerns for long-term mental health.
Psychosis is a common and troubling symptom of meth use and addiction. It can cause people to act in strange and unexpected ways and often causes significant concern for long-term mental health. But what is meth psychosis, and what causes it?
What Is Meth Psychosis?
Meth psychosis is when people experience a psychotic episode due to using methamphetamine. People who experience meth psychosis can have frightening delusions, vivid hallucinations and an overwhelming sense of anxiety and fear. During psychosis, it is difficult to separate what is real and what is not, and it can cause people to act erratically.
Estimates suggest up to 40% of people who use methamphetamine will experience psychotic symptoms. The cause of meth psychosis is twofold: first, the direct drug effects of methamphetamine can cause extremely elevated levels of glutamate and dopamine, which have been associated with psychotic symptoms. Second, chronic meth use can lead people to experience severe sleep deprivation, which can also cause psychosis.
Symptoms of Meth Psychosis
The symptoms of meth psychosis closely parallel those of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. People experiencing psychosis may have symptoms like:
- Paranoid delusions
- Visual hallucinations
- Auditory hallucinations
- Tactile hallucinations
- Violent behavior
In addition, people experiencing meth psychosis may have several other side effects. Meth psychosis often indicates meth overdose, a potentially life-threatening condition.
Types of Meth-induced Psychosis
The different types of meth-induced psychosis can range from minor inconveniences to debilitating psychiatric consequences.
Hallucinations are the most obvious sign of meth psychosis. There are three forms:
Visual hallucinations refer to seeing things that aren’t there. A person with psychosis may see people hiding in the bushes, patterns resolving into distinct shapes or flashing lights that nobody else can see. Auditory hallucinations are when people hear things others can’t, such as conversations in the next room or voices speaking inside your head. Lastly, tactile hallucinations refer to feeling things that aren’t there. For instance, many people with meth psychosis feel bugs crawling over their skin.
Paranoia is another common sign of psychosis. People may feel that others are plotting against them, that they are under police surveillance or that people intend to harm them. These beliefs are often confirmed by their hallucinations. For example, a visual hallucination of flashing lights may be interpreted as police sirens, or an auditory hallucination of voices nearby may be interpreted as a surveillance team.
Delusions are false beliefs that seem real. They typically come in one of two styles: persecutory delusions and ideas of reference. Persecutory delusions are when a person feels as if others are out to get them, and people experiencing meth psychosis may feel they are being tricked, watched or made fun of.
Ideas of reference is a term used to describe when people believe that events in the world refer to them specifically. For example, a person with psychosis watching the news may think the broadcaster is speaking specifically to them.
Aggression and hyperactivity frequently occur alongside meth psychosis. Increased activity is one of the many short-term effects of meth use and is typically present throughout meth psychosis.
Aggression has been linked to paranoid delusions during meth psychosis. People who feel others persecute them can often lash out with aggressive behaviors, even though these beliefs aren’t real.
Is Meth Psychosis Permanent?
For most, meth psychosis is a temporary condition. Psychotic symptoms typically resolve after the effects of meth have worn off or the person experiencing psychosis gets a restful night’s sleep. Meth psychosis is not usually a sign of a future psychotic disorder diagnosis.
With that being said, there is limited scientific evidence that methamphetamine use can accelerate the development of schizophrenia in people with a close family history of schizophrenia. One study looked at 15 people who used meth and their siblings. The study only investigated people whose parents had schizophrenia. Seven subjects developed schizophrenia in five years, whereas only one of the 15 siblings did. This is complicated by the fact that 50% of people with schizophrenia have co-occurring substance use disorders. Still, it is a clear indication that meth use is a risk factor for the development of schizophrenia.
How Long Does Meth Psychosis Last?
Meth psychosis will only last as long as the effects of the drug for most people. Since meth’s half-life is around 11 hours, this can mean people experience meth psychosis for over 24 hours. Yet, for a small subset of people, psychotic symptoms can persist well after the effects of meth wear off.
Researchers estimate that roughly 17% of people who experience meth psychosis will continue to experience psychotic symptoms for up to three months or longer, even with no prior experiences of psychosis before initiating meth use. Two competing theories for why this is the case are: meth use may uncover ‘latent schizophrenia,’ and prolonged meth use may create symptoms similar to schizophrenia.
How To Help Someone With Meth Psychosis
The first step to helping somebody with meth psychosis is ensuring they stop using meth immediately. Next, try to encourage them to rest. It’s best not to argue with them over hallucinations or false beliefs. Telling them that something isn’t there or their beliefs are false is unlikely to snap them out of it. Acknowledging that their experience is troubling, and helping them to cope with it, is a more effective strategy than trying to break them free from psychosis through rational explanations.
Contact emergency medical services immediately if they become violent or you fear they may harm themselves or others.
Treatment for Meth Psychosis in South Jersey
For many people, the experience of meth psychosis is a wake-up call. It’s an indication that their use has spiraled out of control, and the only way to ensure it doesn’t happen again is to stop using meth and achieve abstinence. Yet substance use disorders can be incredibly difficult to break free from on your own. Fortunately, addiction treatment services are highly effective at helping people achieve recovery.
The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper has several tools and strategies to help people recover from meth-induced psychosis. Medical detoxification can help people overcome withdrawal symptoms, reduce psychotic symptoms and prepare for addiction treatment. Evidence-based therapies can help people build the coping skills and strategies they need to stay sober long-term.
Chaudhury, Suprakash. “Hallucinations: Clinical Aspects and Management.“>Hallucin[…]d Management.” Industrial Psychiatry Journal, 2010. Accessed August 22, 2022.
Glasner-Edwards, Suzette, and Larissa J. Mooney. “Methamphetamine Psychosis: Epidemiology and Management.“>Methamph[…]d Management.” CNS Drugs, December 2014. Accessed August 22, 2022.
Harding, Robert W., et al. “‘It’s Called Overamping’: Experiences of Overdose among People Who Use Methamphetamine.“>‘It’[…]hamphetamine.” Harm Reduction Journal, January 2022. Accessed August 22, 2022.
Harris, Debra S., et al. “The Bioavailability of Intranasal and Smoked Methamphetamine.“>The Bioa[…]hamphetamine.” Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, November 2003. Accessed August 22, 2022.
Hsieh, Jennifer H., et al. “The Neurobiology of Methamphetamine Induced Psychosis.“>The Neur[…]ed Psychosis.” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, July 22, 2014. Accessed August 22, 2022.
Kiran, Chandra, and Suprakash Chaudhury. “Understanding Delusions.“>Understa[…]ng Delusions.” Industrial Psychiatry Journal, 2009. Accessed August 22, 2022.
McKetin Rebecca, et al. “Dose-related psychotic symptoms in chronic methamphetamine users: evidence from a prospective longitudinal study.“>Dose-rel[…]udinal study.” JAMA Psychiatry, March 2013. Accessed August 23, 2022.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What Are the Immediate (Short-Term) Effects of Methamphetamine Misuse?“>What Are[…]amine Misuse?” October 2019. Accessed August 22, 2022.
Li, Huabing, et al. “Methamphetamine Enhances the Development of Schizophrenia in First-Degree Relatives of Patients With Schizophrenia.“>Methamph[…]chizophrenia.” Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, February 2014. Accessed August 22, 2022.
Waters, Flavie, et al. “Severe Sleep Deprivation Causes Hallucinations and a Gradual Progression Toward Psychosis With Increasing Time Awake.“>Severe S[…]g Time Awake.” Frontiers in Psychiatry, July 10, 2018. Accessed August 22, 2022.
Winklbaur, Bernadette, et al. “Substance Abuse in Patients with Schizophrenia.“>Substanc[…]chizophrenia.” Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, March 2006. Accessed August 22, 2022.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.