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Meth Psychosis: Signs, Symptoms, And Risk Factors

Dr. Richard Foster, LICDC-CS

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Richard Foster, LICDC-CS

March 28, 2019

People who abuse methamphetamine are at risk for meth psychosis, a condition that can put people in dangerous situations. Meth psychosis can cause aggression, hallucinations, violent behavior, and severe skin scratching.

Meth is a synthetic stimulant that can have serious mental and physical consequences. Abusing this drug can lead to meth psychosis, which can permanently alter a person’s mental health. Research indicates that meth psychosis could affect up to 40 percent of people who use this drug.

This condition causes people to experience delusions, paranoia, and hallucinations. People suffering from meth psychosis also experience extreme itching. This causes people to constantly scratch their skin, leaving infected sores across the arms, legs, and face.

Meth causes a strong feeling of euphoria and is highly addictive. Even short-term use can lead to addiction, overdose, and meth psychosis.

What Does Meth Psychosis Feel Like?

Meth is man-made and may look like shards of glass or crystal. This drug can be snorted, smoked, or injected. While any method of use can lead to this condition, researchers have found that smoking meth leads to psychosis much quicker than injecting.

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People suffering from meth psychosis may exhibit aggressive and unpredictable behavior, including acts of violence. This agitation may seem to come out of nowhere and be based on something unreasonable that did not actually occur.

Delusions are another common side effect of meth psychosis. Sometimes called paranoia, delusions occur when a person is disconnected from reality. A person may believe that someone is chasing them or tricking them. They may also believe the police or authorities are after them.

Rumination is another symptom of meth psychosis and is a form of paranoid anxiety. Rumination occurs when a person focuses on a negative thought over and over again.

People who experience meth-related rumination may convince themselves that this negative thought is going to become a reality unless they act out in some way.

When a person experiences meth psychosis, they may also feel like bugs are crawling over their skin. This is called a tactile hallucination, where you feel something that is not there.

What Causes Meth Psychosis?

Meth causes the brain to release dopamine, a feel-good chemical that is usually released in smaller, more controlled amounts. This rush of dopamine causes a hormonal imbalance in the brain, and can result in aggression, emotional outbursts, and psychosis.

Meth also affects the amygdala, a part of the brain that is tied to instincts like fight or flight. Overstimulating this area can result in an impulsive judgment and extreme paranoia. Some people may feel these effects short-term, where others suffer from long-term meth psychosis.

This hormonal impact on the brain is part of what makes meth so addictive. Even if a person does meth infrequently, this drug puts people at risk for injury, legal problems, and death.

Who Is At Risk For Meth Psychosis?

Anyone who abuses meth is at risk for experiencing meth psychosis. Nearly half the people who try meth experience this troubling condition.

People who suffer from mental health disorders such as schizophrenia may be at an increased risk for meth psychosis.

Methamphetamine use is especially common in rural areas; living in a rural community is considered a risk factor for meth abuse and psychosis. Males who identify as gay or bisexual also have a heightened risk of meth use and meth psychosis.

Additional risk factors for meth psychosis include:

  • being of Hispanic ethnicity
  • being of Asian ethnicity
  • history of sexual abuse
  • mental health conditions in your family
  • additional substance use
  • dependence on alcohol
  • parental substance abuse
  • history of visual hallucinations

Symptoms Of Meth Psychosis

When it comes to drugs of abuse, people have different reactions to different substances. Individual body chemistry plays a large role in how someone reacts to a drug, but meth psychosis tends to have significant effects on people across the board.

The warning signs of meth psychosis are hard to ignore. The consequences of this condition can be extreme, and experiencing any of these symptoms is a clear indicator of psychosis.

Symptoms of meth psychosis include:

  • irritability
  • agitation
  • mood disturbances
  • major change in personality
  • sores on the face, arms, or legs
  • violent and erratic behavior
  • visual, auditory, or tactile hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are not there)

Large amounts of meth are associated with an increased chance of experiencing paranoid psychosis, but meth psychosis can occur even the first time someone tries this drug.

Meth Addiction And Detox

This potent drug has devastating effects on a person’s body and mind, and more than 1.2 million Americans have struggled with meth in the last year.

When a person is dependent on meth, their body requires the drug in order to feel normal. Medical detox programs can be a helpful tool to give people a chance at life after meth addiction.

One of the ways the criminal justice system combats meth abuse is to refer people to medical detox and addiction treatment programs. The criminal justice system refers more people for meth abuse than all other substances combined.

Many people that struggle with meth psychosis have a dual diagnosis. This means they also battle a co-occurring disorder, such as paranoid schizophrenia. As a result, people who experience meth addiction are twice as likely to require long-term residential treatment.

Treatment For Meth Addiction

It can be difficult to get off meth, especially because of the way this drug ravages the body and mind. In the U.S., nearly half a million people report using meth in the last month. That means hundreds of thousands of people are currently at risk for meth psychosis.

Fortunately, addiction treatment programs can help someone caught in the cycle of meth abuse. Inpatient rehab centers provide detox programs, dual diagnosis treatment, and recovery therapies to those struggling to get off of meth.

To keep treatment affordable, many rehab centers accept public and private insurance. Some programs also offer sliding scale payment schedules and scholarships.

For more information on meth psychosis, or to find a rehab center near you, reach out to one of our treatment specialists today.

MedlinePlus - Methamphetamine

National Institute on Drug Abuse - What is methamphetamine?

National Institute on Drug Abuse - What are the long-term effects of methamphetamine abuse?

U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health - Methamphetamine

U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health - Methamphetamine-Associated Psychosis

U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health - Methamphetamine Psychosis: Epidemiology and Management

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