Psychosis isn’t itself a condition. Instead, psychosis is a symptom of different psychotic disorders. During a period of psychosis, a person will lose touch with reality. When someone is having a psychotic episode, symptoms may include altered thoughts and perceptions. A person in a psychotic episode will have a hard time knowing what’s real versus what isn’t. Signs of psychosis can also include false beliefs and hallucinations.
Learn more with the below answers to commonly asked questions about psychosis.
Yes. Physical symptoms, including headaches, tiredness and difficulty sleeping, are often some of the first signs of a psychotic disorder. As a psychotic disorder progresses, the affected individual may attribute these physical symptoms, including headaches, to delusions. For example, a person with a psychotic disorder may believe that their headaches are caused by a medical condition, such as a tumor or an aneurysm, even when there is no proof that such a medical condition exists. In other cases, the delusions might be more outlandish, such as the belief that an implanted device is causing their headaches.
Psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia, schizophreniform disorder, schizoaffective disorder and delusional disorder, can be triggered by different life experiences, including trauma and acute stress. Typically, psychotic disorders develop when individuals are in their mid to late twenties.
In some cases, these situations trigger psychotic disorders in individuals who already have a family history of psychotic disorders. Among psychotic disorders, schizophrenia has been shown to have a particularly strong genetic component. In other instances, these events can cause people with no family history of psychotic disorders to develop such conditions.
In some cases, psychotic disorders can cause mania. Mania is a mental state characterized by excitement, euphoria and delusions. While delusions are a symptom of many psychotic disorders, the only psychotic disorder where the extreme shifts in energy and mood characteristic of true mania are present is schizoaffective disorder.
People with schizoaffective disorder experience symptoms similar to schizophrenia, such as hallucinations and delusions. They tend to also exhibit a range of mood disorder symptoms, which can include depression or mania. One of two types of the condition, deemed “bipolar type,” causes individuals to exhibit significant, frequent states of mania.
The length of time a psychotic disorder lasts can vary widely depending on the specific psychotic disorder:
- Schizophrenia: The majority of individuals with schizophrenia have the condition for life. Fortunately, many can find significant relief from symptoms through therapy and medication.
- Schizophreniform disorder: A short-term form of schizophrenia, schizophreniform disorder lasts between one and six months. If symptoms continue for longer than this period, a person may be diagnosed with schizophrenia.
- Schizoaffective disorder: Schizoaffective disorder is a lifelong condition. However, with proper medical interventions, symptoms can be adequately controlled.
- Substance-induced psychosis: Substance-induced psychosis is a short-term form of psychosis triggered by alcohol, prescription medications or illicit drugs. In most cases, psychosis symptoms subside once the triggering substance leaves the individual’s system.
- Delusional disorder: In most cases, delusional disorder is a chronic condition that lasts throughout a person’s life. However, people who this condition can find relief from some of their symptoms with proper medication and treatment.
- Brief psychotic episode: By definition, this condition only lasts for one to six months. If a brief psychotic episode persists for longer than six months, a schizophrenia diagnosis will likely be made.
The relationship between smoking and psychotic disorders is complicated. Studies of tobacco and marijuana use have both showed links between psychosis and smoking these substances. A systematic review of current studies found that people who experienced an episode of psychosis were more than three times likely to be smokers than nonsmokers.
However, it’s unclear why this connection exists. Some researchers speculate that people who already have a genetic predisposition for psychosis and psychotic disorders may smoke to alleviate symptoms. Others suggest that nicotine may affect the brain’s reward system in a way that increases an individual’s risk of experiencing psychosis or developing a psychotic disorder.
No, psychotic disorders are not the same as psychosis. Psychosis is a state of disconnect from reality that can present as a symptom of a separate mental health disorder, including psychotic disorders. Psychosis can also be temporarily brought about by trauma, acute stress or certain substances. Psychotic episodes typically only brief periods. However, when psychotic episodes are present as part of chronic psychotic disorders, they may occur frequently or over an extended time.
Psychosis is associated with several debilitating symptoms, like hallucinations, delusions and disorganized behaviors. Treating symptoms of psychosis typically involves a combination of therapy and medications.
If a psychotic episode causes someone to threaten violence, rapid tranquilization might be necessary. This method of treatment involves a doctor or emergency response professional administering a fast-acting medication to quickly calm the individual.
Many medical professionals also administer antipsychotic medications to reduce symptoms of psychosis. Antipsychotic drugs used to control psychosis include Thorazine, Prolixin and Navane. In addition to medications, psychotherapies, like cognitive behavioral therapy, have shown effectiveness in treating psychotic symptoms.