Meth-induced psychosis occurs when a person who has been using methamphetamine or in the process of withdrawal experiences psychotic symptoms. Meth psychosis is among the most dangerous potential consequences of frequent or long-term meth use.
Methamphetamine, also known as crystal meth, crank, speed, or ice, is an addictive and potentially life-threatening drug. It is most often found illegally on the black market after being produced in home labs in the U.S. or overseas by drug cartels. Meth is created or “cooked” from ingredients derived from cough and cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine combined with household chemicals and highly explosive materials.
Meth is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant, with effects that include increased heart rate and energy along with a euphoric high. These are caused by a massive increase in dopamine, a brain neurochemical responsible for feelings of reward and pleasure, which also increases the likelihood of addiction.
About Meth Psychosis
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), meth psychosis is an episode in which a person is experiencing delusions and hallucinations related to meth use. Hallucinations are seen, heard, or otherwise sensed by an individual which are not perceived by others. Occasionally people have hallucinations that are gustatory (tasting something) or tactile (feeling something). These perceptions can result from drug use, drug withdrawal, or mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder, dementia, or schizophrenia.
Delusions also hallmark psychosis and involve the person having beliefs that aren’t true, at least not objectively by those around them. Delusions often include paranoia, such as the belief that the individual affected is being closely monitored by law enforcement or the CIA. They may also include ideas focused on specific elements that have little or nothing to do with them, believing that these things are targeted at them specifically, such as a song playing on the radio.
During meth psychosis, the person may steadfastly believe that others are out to get them, or that everyday objects are watching on them, equipped with surveillance devices. Many users in this state isolate themselves from friends and family because they are suspicious that even their loved ones are out to get them.
Another potential sign of meth psychosis is increased aggression, which can occur as the person’s brain loses the capacity to regulate impulses appropriately. When a person uses meth regularly, he or she may lose their ability to respond to events happening around them rationally. This effect can lead to aggression and violence.
Regular meth users may also begin to exhibit signs of obsessive-compulsive behavior and feel the need to engage in certain actions repeatedly, such as cleaning at a frenzied pace or washing hands excessively. This effect can also contribute to many of the sores often visible on the face and bodies of meth users, caused by picking and scratching at the skin (meth mites).
When a person experiences meth psychosis, it may abate when he or she comes down from the drug’s effects, but in some instances, it can persist longer than the high itself—perhaps for many days. Unfortunately, brain damage caused by chronic meth abuse can leave some users suffering from psychotic episodes that continue to plague them long after they have stopped using the drug.
A Word on Meth Mites
“Meth mites” and “crank bugs” are slang terms commonly used for the same type of hallucination that involves the sensation that insects are crawling on or under a person’s skin. People who abuse meth tend to stay awake for several days without sleep, and sleep deprivation itself can provoke hallucinations in otherwise healthy individuals.
Some of the theories surrounding the phenomenon of meth mites include the following:
Cause 1: Meth use is associated with itchiness, anxiety, and paranoia. After many days of sleep deprivation, a person who is using meth may begin to believe the itching is caused by something on or under the skin.
Cause 2: People who abuse meth may have unhealthy skin due to malnutrition, poor hygiene, or exposure to the toxic ingredients used to produce it. When high on meth, users may scratch or pick at their already weakened or damaged skin, leading to irritations, sores, and scabs.
Cause 3: Sleep deprivation and psychotic features of “tweaking” may cause a user to begin hallucinating and falsely believe that insects are causing their existing skin issues.
Tweaking is a word used to describe the bizarre and sometimes erratic behavior caused by stimulant abuse. Tweaking occurs when the user has come to the end of a meth binge, and the drug is no longer able to provide the user with the desired rush or a high.
Causes of Meth Psychosis
But why does meth abuse, specifically, tend to have a higher risk of psychosis than many other drugs? Like other psychoactive substances, meth affects the brain’s natural chemical balance. Moreover, when an individual uses meth, that person is altering their brain chemistry’s homeostasis, which may ultimately trigger meth psychosis.
Meth use also causes the brain to release a massive flood of dopamine. After a time, dopamine reserves become exhausted, and the body is unable to create more. Extended meth use overactivates the brain’s temporal lobe, which is believed to provoke psychosis. The amygdala is also affected, and if highly stimulated, it can initiate “fight-or-flight” survival responses.
People who have meth psychosis experience these symptoms because their brain chemistry is unbalanced, which can cause them to be paranoid and feel like they are in danger and need to flee, protect themselves, or lash out. For many meth users, symptoms of paranoia can onset in just a few months of drug use. In addition to brain stimulation in regions involved with the regulation of emotions and anxiety, using meth also affects the limbic system and prefrontal cortex, and this can lead to impulsive or aggressive behavior and violence.
It is important to emphasize that meth psychosis is not uncommon. In fact, many people who engage in meth use will, at some point, experience mild-to-severe psychotic symptoms, with recent estimates of up to approximately 40% of users affected.
Treatment for Meth Psychosis and Addiction
Meth abuse and addiction are devastating diseases that can destroy the lives of those who suffer as well as loved ones, and professional treatment should be sought as soon as possible. Modern, comprehensive programs typically include a combination of evidence-based services such as the following:
- Behavioral therapy
- Individual and family counseling
- Group support
- Substance abuse education
- Health and wellness programs
- Relapse prevention
- Experiential activities
- Aftercare planning
Many drugs can be administered used to treat specific symptoms of meth-induced psychosis. Some of these medications include antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and antipsychotics. A user is likely to recover from psychosis without treatment, but detox and long-term care are highly encouraged to prevent a recurrence of symptoms and drug relapse.
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers employ highly-trained addiction professionals who provide these services to those we treat using compassion and expertise. We aim to provide patients with the tools, resources, and education they need to achieve sobriety and enjoy long-lasting wellness throughout their lives.
If you are ready to begin your recovery journey, we urge you to contact us now and find out how we can help!