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Meth, crank, crystal meth, and tina are all different names that describe the same drug: methamphetamine. Methamphetamine is a popular stimulant drug that affects the central nervous system, leading to intense euphoric sensations and heightened energy levels. Typically available in odorless white powder, the drug has a bitter taste. It can be found in pill or crystalized forms with multiple ways of use, such as smoking, intravenous ingestion, or oral intake.
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Regardless of what you call it, what form you prefer, or how you take it, methamphetamine can be extremely dangerous to use with profound implications. Among the severe side effects of meth use is psychosis, a state comprising delusions, hallucinations, and other symptoms. If left untreated, meth psychosis can be a considerable threat to the safety of self and others and requires immediate medical management.
What is Meth Psychosis: An Overview
Psychosis refers to a condition in which a person loses touch with reality. While experiencing an active episode of psychosis, an individual may find it challenging to understand what’s real and what’s not. The condition often includes visual and auditory hallucinations, forcing the person to hear or see things that are not there and harboring false beliefs, called delusions.
Several factors determine the risk of psychosis in meth users, and in some cases, it is directly due to a pre-existing mental health condition. However, careful clinical assessments can help experts determine its origin more accurately. The development of meth psychosis is typically gradual and can be categorized into the following three stages:
Acute Methamphetamine Psychosis
This type of meth psychosis and its intensity reflects the amount of meth a person uses and a lack of sleep during binge use.
Persistent or Chronic Methamphetamine Psychosis
This type of psychosis is associated with long-term, regular use of meth and often includes intense hallucinations.
Stimulants like meth can easily exacerbate psychosis in people with schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia. Hence, anyone experiencing an active episode of meth-induced psychosis must undergo assessment and evaluation for a co-occurring stimulant use disorder or mental illness like schizophrenia.
Methamphetamine Psychosis: What are the Common Symptoms?
Some common symptoms suggestive of meth-induced psychosis include the following:
- Skin sores on legs, face, and arms
- Constant scratching on the skin
- Increased violence or aggression directed towards self or others
More information on meth psychosis symptoms can help individuals understand the impact of this drug on the brain.
Meth use can easily make users hallucinate. As a part of this symptom, many people start seeing things that are not there, some hear things that others cannot, and others feel strange sensations in their bodies. Some users also report experiencing a feeling as if bugs are crawling under their skin and may attempt to scratch their skin, leading to meth sores. One out of every three people using meth report getting skin infections or sores, and the problem is more likely to occur in people who inject the drug.
Delusions describe beliefs that are not based on reality. These ideas can be caused by multiple reasons, one of which includes the use of mind-altering drugs like meth. Repeated meth abuse and the consequent psychosis may lead to several types of delusions, such as:
- Persecutory delusions involve beliefs that an individual is being made fun of, spied on, tortured, or tricked
- Referential delusions force individuals to consider a public message as a personal attack
Following meth consumption, some people also experience paranoia alongside hallucinations. Using meth significantly increases brain activity, consequently leading to paranoid thoughts. A meth user may also hallucinate that an object or person is about to harm them and develop paranoid thoughts as a result. Paranoia in meth users is sometimes an indicator of withdrawal; up to 20 percent of users may develop it.
Aggression or Hyperactivity
Increased energy is one of the most common effects that a user may feel during meth psychosis. This increased energy can easily lead to violent behavior or heightened aggressiveness in general. Almost one-third of meth abusers report experiencing this symptom during active psychosis or withdrawal. The aggression connected to meth psychosis may be directed at others or the self, and help must be sought as soon as possible to avoid any kind of harm or damage.
Helping Someone with Meth Psychosis
Helping someone undergoing meth psychosis may not seem easy. However, extending a helping hand as early as possible is essential as the patient is most likely to be responsive to help during the early stages. Once a complete psychotic break happens, the responsiveness and cooperation level may decrease.
Mentioned below are some tips for approaching a person undergoing hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia secondary to methamphetamine psychosis:
- Remain calm and composed and approach the person experiencing psychosis while being in control of yourself. Speak clearly and slowly using simple words and keep the sentences short. If they do not seem to understand, repeat yourself as often as needed
- If an individual is actively using meth despite experiencing psychosis, try to stop them by redirecting or distracting them. Do not attempt to physically take the drug away from them, as this may scare or agitate them into self-defense.
- Control any extra environmental stimulation around the psychotic person by removing distractions, dimming bright lights, turning down any noises, and getting away from large crowds to someplace quieter.
- Ask the individual to explain what they are experiencing. Start with specific questions, like what they are feeling, hearing, seeing, and so on, so you can understand their situation better.
- While you must never reinforce the delusions or hallucinations, do not try to argue with them at the same time. Instead of saying phrases like “ it is not real,” try explaining to them your perspective, such as “I understand you feel scared, but I am with you, and I cannot hear/feel/smell/see it.”
- Help the person slow down their breathing and relax. Get them to take a few deep breaths with you to get better control over their bodies.
- Support the person and reassure them by constantly telling them you are with them and they are safe.
It is imperative to watch out for your safety while dealing with someone with active meth psychosis. For example, if a person starts becoming paranoid or suspicious, avoid approaching them and keep your distance until they are calm again. Try not to argue with them and leave the area right away if the person gets aggressive or violent.
Do not hesitate to call emergency services for someone experiencing self-harm, severe aggression, or paranoia. You can also arrange for an addiction specialist to come as soon as the individual has calmed down.
Meth Psychosis Addiction: Helping Your Loved One Get Sober Safely
Battling meth addiction is a fight for your future. Because the drug can be extremely potent with widespread effects on the body and brain, it usually takes some time and high-quality, extensive medical and psychological care to acquire sobriety. The best way to interfere with the cycle of meth abuse is to bring users into an environment where they can safely live away from the drug while accessing psychological and medical care from professionals.
Residential rehab is ideally the best place for meth users to undergo treatment. Such rehabs require all patients to stay onsite throughout treatment, where multiple addiction therapists, counselors, and detox specialists take care of them all day. The treatment programs typically begin with a medically supervised detox that aims to help users safely stop meth use while minimizing withdrawal symptoms and the harm they may cause. The purpose is to help people safely stop using the drug while reducing the risk of a relapse.
Once the detox period is over, meth users may transition into the rehabilitative phase, where the treatment focuses on helping them get over the psychological aspect of addiction. Through multiple therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, family sessions, group therapy, and 12-step and non-12-step interventions, meth users can identify the root causes of their addictions and try to overcome them. The purpose of rehabilitative therapy is to strengthen recovery and make sure that once patients leave rehab, they do not indulge in drug use once again.
Following residential care, the course of meth psychosis and addiction treatment may vary depending on how severe the condition is. Some people may transition to less-intensive outpatient treatment, including intensive outpatient therapy and partial hospitalization. Others move to sober living arrangements where they live with other recovering addicts in a supervised environment and learn to apply the coping mechanisms in real-life scenarios and situations.
How does meth cause psychosis?
Meth can force the brain to excrete a high amount of dopamine- a neurotransmitter that is also known as the feel-good chemical. Excessive production of this neurotransmitter leads to euphoria and regulation of other essential body functions, such as motivation, reproduction, reward, movement, and brain functioning. This dopamine overproduction is what usually triggers psychosis due to meth abuse. Moreover, the effect of this drug on the limbic system, which regulates emotion, also triggers meth paranoia.
How long does meth psychosis last?
The symptoms of meth psychosis are usually short and end as soon as an individual stops using the drug. Hallucinations begin to fade away within 1 to 2 days, whereas other symptoms of altered perception, such as paranoia and delusions, take around 2 to 3 weeks before stopping completely. People with persistent methamphetamine psychosis may continue suffering from it for six months or sometimes even longer. Keep in mind that restarting the use of meth or other drugs or factors like sleep and stress can cause the psychosis to return even after prolonged abstinence of symptoms.
What are the risk factors of methamphetamine psychosis?
Because of the broad range of reporting, it can be challenging to pinpoint the prevalence of meth psychosis. Some studies suggest that it affects around 36.5 percent of people who use meth. Although the condition can occur in anyone abusing the drug, some factors increase the risk, such as:
- Having schizophrenia, schizotypal, schizoaffective disorder, or other similar conditions
- Using other substances in addition to meth
- Meeting the criteria for stimulant addiction
- Experiencing antisocial personality disorder or affective disorder
- A family history of mental illness
- Sleep deprivation due to meth binge uses
Research has also indicated that people who smoke meth are at a higher risk of experiencing psychosis instead of those who inject it into their veins.
1 Glasner-Edwards, S., & Mooney, L. J. (2014). Methamphetamine psychosis: epidemiology and management. CNS drugs, 28(12), 1115–1126. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40263-014-0209-8
2 Shariat, S. V., & Elahi, A. (2010). Symptoms and course of psychosis after methamphetamine abuse: one-year follow-up of a case. Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry, 12(5), PCC.10l00959. https://doi.org/10.4088/PCC.10l00959gry