Understanding Drug-Induced Psychosis and Why Treatment Is Necessary

Drug-induced psychosis is often a short-lived condition, typically relieved when drug use stops. However, it can be distressing, harmful, and longer-lasting. It can also be indicative of an underlying substance use disorder or other mental illnesses. Anyone who goes through this kind of psychosis is likely to need immediate treatment and stabilization, as well as long-term mental health care and treatment for all existing conditions.

Psychosis can be a very frightening situation and state of mind, both for the individual going through it and those around them. If you care about someone who seems to be psychotic, experiencing delusions and hallucinations, it’s important to get professional help.

Even if you suspect it is drug use that triggered the psychosis, treatment is important. Treatment can help immediately stabilize your loved one but also address the underlying issues that led to the troubling symptoms.

Psychosis, or a psychotic episode, is a disturbance or disruption in normal thoughts and perceptions. Someone with psychosis breaks with reality and experiences things that they can’t be sure are real or not.

There are three main symptoms associated with psychosis:

  1. Hallucinations. These are perceptions and sensations that feel real but are not. They can include hearing voices or other sounds that aren’t there, seeing shapes and colors, feeling a touch from something that doesn’t exist, or even smells and tastes.
  2. Delusions. Delusions are persistent, false beliefs. The belief is steady, even in the face of contradictory evidence. For example, someone who is delusional may believe they are the president.
  3. Disturbed thoughts. Psychosis can also cause disturbed patterns in thinking that trigger rapid, confusing speech, jumping rapidly from one thought to another, rambling thoughts and speech, and difficulty communicating with others.

Psychosis can be caused by a specific mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. It can also be triggered by external factors, like a traumatic experience, a brain injury, or a medication. Substance of abuse, including drugs and alcohol, can also cause psychotic symptoms.

What Is Drug-Induced Psychosis?


Drug-induced psychosis is more formally known as substance-induced psychotic disorder. It occurs when intoxication or withdrawal from a psychoactive substance of abuse triggers psychotic symptoms. Substances known to have the potential to cause psychosis during intoxication, withdrawal or both include:

  • Alcohol
  • Cannabis
  • Hallucinogens
  • Inhalants
  • Sedatives
  • Stimulants

The criteria for diagnosing someone with substance-induced psychotic disorder include:

  1. Either hallucinations or delusions, or both, are present.
  2. The symptoms are associated with a substance and occurred within one month of being intoxicated or going through withdrawal.
  3. The psychotic symptoms cannot be better attributed to a mental illness.
  4. The symptoms don’t only occur during a period of delirium.
  5. The episode of psychosis causes significant impairment or distress.

How Do I Know If Psychosis Is Caused by Substance Use?


The line between psychosis caused by substances and episodes triggered by other factors, particularly mental illness, can be blurry. Someone you care about who develops psychosis may have had early warning symptoms of an illness like schizophrenia that you didn’t recognize. There are some signs you can watch for that indicate an episode of psychotic symptoms is most likely caused by substance abuse:

  • The characteristic symptoms seem to be related to drug use. The timing can tell you a lot. If the symptoms begin soon after someone uses a drug, while they are intoxicated, or as they begin to go through withdrawal, there is a good chance the drugs are to blame.
  • The individual has not shown signs of psychosis before. The above is especially indicative of substance-induced psychosis in someone who has never experienced these kinds of symptoms.
  • The symptoms set in quickly. Psychosis caused by a mental illness tends to start more slowly, with early warning signs.
  • There can be some awareness of psychosis. A person with drug-induced psychosis may have a little more awareness that something isn’t right or that their hallucinations or delusions aren’t real.
  • Most instances of drug-induced psychosis are temporary and short-lived. The symptoms may go away once the drug is out of the body or withdrawal has cleared up, but they rarely last for more than a month.

The only way to know for sure if someone has an underlying mental illness or psychosis caused solely by drug use is to consult with a mental health professional.

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If Drug-Induced Psychosis Is Temporary, Why Get Treatment?


One of the important signs that psychosis is caused by drugs is that it doesn’t last too long. Someone with a mental illness that causes psychotic episodes will have persistent symptoms and recurring episodes. So if the psychosis is temporary, is treatment really necessary?

Some people with this condition need immediate, even emergency treatment. Psychosis is very distressing, and although not common, it can lead to violence. A person in psychosis may become dangerous to themselves or to others.

Another important reason to seek treatment is that any kind of substance abuse, but especially abuse that leads to such dangerous situations, can be indicative of a substance use disorder. If drug use continues, there can be any number of serious consequences, including a recurrence of psychosis. Any degree of substance use disorder can benefit from professional treatment.

Finally, even if it is determined that the psychotic symptoms were triggered by drug use, it is possible there is a co-occurring mental illness, even a psychotic disorder. The right treatment will provide a thorough evaluation to diagnose any other conditions and a plan that addresses any existing mental illnesses along with substance use disorder.

Treatment for Drug-Induced Psychosis – Why Residential Is the Best Choice


Immediate treatment for substance-induced psychosis may involve hospitalization. The goal is stabilization, which usually requires a calm environment and sometimes a medication like a benzodiazepine or antipsychotic drug. These measures can provide quick results, which are important, but they don’t address the underlying issues.

There is a reason that the person you care about turned to drugs in the first place. It could be depression, trauma, or a psychotic disorder, among many other triggers. What the best residential treatment center can offer that is so important is a thorough evaluation to diagnose all underlying conditions, followed by an individual treatment plan that addresses every one of a patient’s needs.

In residential care, each patient gets an individualized program, but most programs will include some type of behavioral therapy along with medical care and supplemental services. Therapy is important for uncovering motivations for substance use, past trauma and other experiences, and personality characteristics that lead to poor choices. In behavioral therapy, patients learn how to be more aware of their damaging thoughts and behaviors and how to make positive and long-term changes.

Medical care is tailored to each person’s needs and may include medicationsfor mental illnesses, such as antidepressants. Supplemental services and alternative therapies provide additional support in the form of group therapy, family therapy, creative therapies, recreation, lifestyle changes, nutrition, exercise, and more.

Drug-induced psychosis is about much more than the temporary symptoms. It hints at underlying problems that need to be addressed and managed to prevent similar episodes in the future. If someone you care about has had these experiences when using or recovering from drugs, encourage them to get a professional diagnosis and treatment.


Alta Mira offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction as well as co-occurring mental health disorders and process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Bay Area programs and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward lasting recovery.