What is Methamphetamine? 

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Methamphetamine, also known as meth or crystal meth, is an illegal stimulant with a glass or rock-like appearance. Crystal meth is very addictive.

Using the drug just once can result in addiction. It acts on the brain’s reward system, leading to positive reinforcement to use it again.

meth psychosis

Meth has many dangerous short- and long-term side effects, including: 

  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Meth psychosis
  • Memory loss
  • Meth mouth and meth mites
  • Severe drug cravings
  • Heart and breathing problems
  • Health problems
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Aggressive/violent behavior

What is Meth Psychosis & Its Symptoms?

Psychosis is a mental disorder that alters a person’s emotions and thoughts. The condition can result in extreme paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations. These disturbances can happen all at once or separately.

Some common types of psychosis include schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, delusional disorder, and substance-induced psychotic disorder. 

Meth psychosis is a specific type of psychosis disorder that develops with frequent and prolonged methamphetamine use. In some individuals, meth psychosis can recur and persist.

It is often difficult to distinguish from paranoid schizophrenia, a primary psychotic disorder. This is because meth psychosis and schizophrenia share many of the same symptoms, except one is caused by drug use, and the other is not. 

Meth psychosis can occur during meth intoxication and/or withdrawal of the drug.

Most people with meth-induced psychosis experience the following symptoms:

  • Delusions
  • Auditory, tactile, or visual hallucinations
  • Obsessive thoughts and behaviors
  • Talking quickly (jabbering) 
  • Jumping from one topic to another
  • Not being able to hold a steady conversation
  • Agitation and jumpiness
  • Having “out there” or unusual beliefs
  • Thinking others are out to get them
  • Hearing voices 
  • Increased aggression toward other people
  • Inability to manage impulses
  • Meth sores on the skin due to obsessive tendencies (caused by scratching or picking the skin)

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in methamphetamine abuse. About 40 percent of people who use methamphetamine recreationally develop psychotic symptoms and syndromes.

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What Does Methamphetamine Psychosis Feel Like?

Meth psychosis symptoms vary from person to person. For example, one individual may experience more vivid hallucinations, while another may develop extreme paranoia. Some people can also experience more than one symptom at once:

Delusions

Delusions associated with meth-induced psychosis can range from mild to severe. By definition, delusions are someone’s beliefs that aren’t true or based on reality. A person experiencing delusions is typically unable to hold a normal conversation and may think a public message is a personal attack. 

Hallucinations

Vivid hallucinations are one of the most common symptoms of meth-induced psychosis. These hallucinations may include seeing things that aren’t there or having the sensation of bugs crawling on the skin. This can cause obsessive scratching, leading to the formation of meth sores on the face, legs, and/or arms. 

Paranoia

Paranoia and meth-induced hallucinations typically occur at the same time. If a person is hallucinating that they are being watched, they commonly become paranoid that someone will attack them. 

Increased Energy and Hyperactivity

Meth increases brain activity and dopamine levels, which causes racing thoughts and actions. As a result, someone with meth psychosis talks quickly (jabbers) and jumps from one topic to another during a conversation. They may also have unusual thoughts and beliefs. 

Aggression

Aggression caused by meth psychosis can be very dangerous. The individual may act out violently on others, loved ones, or themselves. This is mostly due to the hyperactive effects of meth, which increase energy and can lead to spontaneous behaviors.

Who is at Risk of Meth-Induced Psychosis?

A person is more likely to develop psychosis if they use meth over a long period and keep increasing the dose amount. This is referred to as chronic methamphetamine use.

There are also a few other risk factors associated with meth-induced psychosis, including:

  • They have received a diagnosis for stimulant use disorder
  • They have a family history of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or another type of mental health disorder 
  • They have a history of childhood trauma
  • They use alcohol or other non-stimulant drugs (such as cannabis) in combination with meth
  • They were diagnosed with psychosis personality traits or antisocial personality disorder before meth use began

Chronic methamphetamine users are about two to three times more likely to develop psychotic symptoms than the general population.

How Long Does Meth Psychosis Last?

Meth psychosis can begin after just one use, within a few months of use, or years after meth abuse begins. The symptoms of meth psychosis typically occur while the person is on the drug. However, they can also appear after stopping drug use (during the withdrawal phase).

Psychosis may only last a few hours but can last for months or even years after the individual stops using meth altogether. Psychotic episodes can also occur randomly due to stress or if the person starts using meth again. 

Meth withdrawal symptoms may include psychosis, along with:

  • Headaches
  • Extreme drug cravings
  • Low mood/anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Increased appetite
  • Agitation

Treatment for Meth Psychosis & Addiction

The treatment timeline for meth addiction includes an intervention, medical detoxification at an inpatient treatment center, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), counseling, and aftercare.

During treatment, meth abusers safely detox under the guidance of doctors and addiction professionals. Do not detox from meth alone, as the withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening. 

People with a co-occurring mental health disorder (a mental illness that occurs with addiction) may also benefit from intensive care at an inpatient treatment center. Anti-anxiety, insomnia, and antipsychotic medications can be prescribed to help treat meth psychosis.

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Resources +

Fluyau, Dimy, et al. “Antipsychotics for Amphetamine Psychosis. A Systematic Review.” Frontiers in Psychiatry, Frontiers Media S.A., 15 Oct. 2019, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6804571/.

Glasner-Edwards, Suzette, and Larissa J Mooney. “Methamphetamine Psychosis: Epidemiology and Management.” CNS Drugs, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2014, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5027896/.

Grant, Kathleen M, et al. “Methamphetamine-Associated Psychosis.” Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology : the Official Journal of the Society on NeuroImmune Pharmacology, Springer US, Mar. 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3280383/.

“Methamphetamine Associated Psychosis (MAP) - The Clinical Spectrum.” Psych Scene Hub, psychscenehub.com/psychinsights/methamphetamine-associated-psychosis-clinical-spectrum/.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Methamphetamine.” 2019. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/methamphetamine.

Radfar SR, and Rawson RA. “Current Research on Methamphetamine: Epidemiology, Medical and Psychiatric Effects, Treatment, and Harm Reduction Efforts.” Addict Health, vol. 6, no. 3-4, 2014, pp. 146-54. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4354220/.

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