What is drug-induced schizophrenia (psychosis)?
Schizophrenia is a condition where a person can experience psychosis, disruptions to their thought processes, and other symptoms that last longer than 6 months.
In contrast, the symptoms of drug-induced psychosis typically subside after a person stops using the drug causing their symptoms.
If you are already at risk of developing schizophrenia, particular medications or recreational drugs can cause you to experience symptoms of schizophrenia or psychosis.
Of all first-time hospital admissions for psychosis, up to 25% of them may include a diagnosis of drug-induced psychosis.
What is it?
You may have heard the term drug-induced schizophrenia. This is actually referring to drug-induced psychosis. It is when a person shows symptoms of psychosis, such as hallucinations, due to the effects of drugs on their brain.
According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), psychosis may disrupt your usual ways of thinking. It can involve delusions or false beliefs and disorganized thoughts. You may experience hallucinations that include hearing, seeing, smelling, or feeling something that is not actually present.
A person experiencing drug-induced psychosis may behave unusually or say unusual things. For example, they could suddenly become paranoid about their safety in their own home.
Is it different from schizophrenia?
Using the term drug-induced schizophrenia is inaccurate. Symptoms of psychosis that occur after a person has taken drugs are known as drug-induced psychosis. Schizophrenia is a separate condition.
The symptoms of drug-induced psychosis can be similar to psychosis that occurs with schizophrenia. However, psychosis is not the same as schizophrenia — it is a symptom of schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia also causes symptoms that last for at least 6 months. Drug-induced psychosis usually improves after the effect of the drug wears off.
Schizophrenia can result from genetic factors and may run in families, although environmental factors can cause it to appear. Drug-induced psychosis results from drug use.
Sometimes, if a person receives a diagnosis of drug-induced psychosis, they go on to develop schizophrenia. Researchers note that this occurs in 9–34% of people who receive a diagnosis of drug-induced psychosis, depending on the substance used.
If a person has schizophrenia as well as a substance use condition, it can be difficult to get a correct diagnosis.
Any drug that can alter your brain’s behavior or make you “high” can also trigger psychosis. People with genetic factors linked to schizophrenia may also have an increased risk of developing schizophrenia if they take higher doses of drugs or use them more frequently.
Drugs that can cause psychosis are those that change the balance of neurotransmitters in your brain. This is what triggers the altered way of thinking.
Some of these drugs include:
- stimulants, such as amphetamines and cocaine
- hallucinogens, such as ketamine
Amphetamines are among the drugs most likely to cause psychosis.
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If a person experiences psychosis and no other symptoms, they may have drug-induced psychosis.
These symptoms are often hallucinations and delusions. The severity of these symptoms is important for determining if psychosis is occurring.
Typical symptoms of drug-induced psychosis include:
- Hallucinations: When you experience things that are not there. This can be hearing, sight, smell, or touch.
- Changes to thought pattern: Psychosis can cause you to experience thought patterns that are unusual for you.
- Unusual behaviors: If you display behaviors that appear out of character to those around you, such as paranoia or aggression, this could be a sign of drug-induced psychosis.
- Delusions: This is when you believe something is true despite it being unrealistic or not having any reason to believe it as so. For example, a person thinks the government is following them.
Typically, a person experiencing an episode of drug-induced psychosis will recover as the effects of the drug subside. The person should regain their typical mindset and behavior as their body works the drug out.
In severe cases, there are medications that doctors may give to help. The drugs that respond to these medications or antipsychotics are those that typically cause excessive dopamine production, such as cocaine.
Some of these medications include:
Doctors also treat schizophrenia with antipsychotics. This is because the symptoms of psychosis in both schizophrenia and drug-induced psychosis are the same. This means they can treat a person with schizophrenia if they are under the influence of recreational drugs.
These medications can help identify whether a person has schizophrenia or drug-induced psychosis. If symptoms of psychosis continue after stopping antipsychotic medications and without drug use, the person may have schizophrenia.
If you or someone you know begins to experience the following symptoms, you should seek help from a medical professional:
- suddenly seeing or experiencing things that are not a part of reality
- believing things that no one else around you will believe
- paranoia and severe anxiety due to problems that only you can understand
If your symptoms return when you stop taking drugs or medications, you should seek advice from a mental health professional.
Drug-induced schizophrenia is not a condition. It is an incorrect term for drug-induced psychosis.
Drug-induced psychosis is when you experience temporary symptoms of psychosis, such as hallucinations or delusions.
Schizophrenia is a chronic condition, and psychosis is a symptom. However, some people can experience both schizophrenia and drug-related psychosis, and the use of certain drugs may trigger schizophrenia in those who are already prone to it.
Drug-induced psychosis is a condition that doctors can treat with antipsychotic medications and will not return once the effects of drugs have subsided.
- Fusar-Poli, P. et al. (2016). Diagnostic stability of ICD/DSM first episode psychosis diagnoses: Meta-analysis. https://academic.oup.com/schizophreniabulletin/article/42/6/1395/2399275
- Hany, M. et al. (2023). Schizophrenia. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK539864/
- Murrie, B. et al. (2020). Transition of substance-induced, brief, and atypical psychoses to schizophrenia: A systematic review and meta-analysis. https://academic.oup.com/schizophreniabulletin/article/46/3/505/5588638
- Psychosis. (n.d.). https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/psychosis
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016). Impact of the DSM-IV to DSM-5 Changes on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health [Internet]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519704/table/ch3.t22/
- Substance-/medication-induced psychotic disorder. (2022). https://www.msdmanuals.com/professional/psychiatric-disorders/schizophrenia-and-related-disorders/substance-medication-induced-psychotic-disorder
- Tandon, R. et al. (2019). Substance-induced psychotic disorders and schizophrenia: Pathophysiological insights and clinical implications. https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.ajp.2019.19070734