Methamphetamine, or meth, is an illicit drug that produces mind-altering effects. A potential side effect of abusing meth is meth psychosis, a mental health disorder that can affect a person’s senses and perceptions. People can experience meth-induced psychosis during a meth high or after the effects of the drug wear off.
Article at a Glance:
- Hallucinations are a common side effect of meth abuse.
- Meth can alter the brain enough to induce delusions and hallucinations. When combined, this is considered psychosis.
- Types of hallucinations and delusions include hearing voices, seeing people or objects and developing a false sense of danger.
- Psychosis can include paranoia, aggression or violence.
- Meth psychosis often resolves within a week after stopping meth, but it can continue long-term in some cases.
Table of Contents
What Is Meth Psychosis and What Does It Feel Like?
Meth psychosis is a mental disorder that affects a person’s thoughts and emotions, potentially causing extremely paranoid or imagining experiences. During psychosis, people can have hallucinations and delusions, often at the same time.
Chronic meth users are at risk of experiencing psychosis, which causes people to experience delusions, hallucinations, and obsessive thoughts or behaviors.
In a recent study of meth users, 17% of heavy meth users experienced hallucinations and were 50% more likely to get this symptom than other users.
Additionally, meth-induced psychosis can lead to increased aggression toward other people and an inability to manage impulses. When people become more impulsive and obsessive, they may pick at or scratch their skin causing visible wounds called meth sores. About 31% of all meth users get sores, abscesses or infections from picking at their skin, and heavy meth users are more than twice as likely to get them.
What Causes Meth-Induced Psychosis and Who Is at Risk?
Meth is a stimulant drug that increases the brain’s activity and the production of the feel-good chemical dopamine. The increased dopamine creates an imbalance. This chemical alteration can cause psychosis and dramatic mood swings due to the rapidly changing amount of dopamine in the brain.
Meth also interacts with certain areas of the brain that manage emotions and impulses like fear, aggression and fight-or-flight responses. Continued meth use can overstimulate these areas of the brain and create an increased amount of paranoia or a desire to commit acts of violence. These impulses and emotions are common symptoms of meth psychosis.
Anyone who abuses meth is at risk of developing meth psychosis. Whether someone uses the drug at the same dosage for a consistent amount of time or first uses the drug at a high volume, the stimulant is exceptionally potent and can significantly alter a person’s brain.
Symptoms of Meth-Induced Psychosis
Common symptoms of meth-induced psychosis include:
- Constantly scratching at the skin
- Skin sores on the arms, legs or face
- Increased aggression or violence to themselves or others
Additional information regarding each symptom can reveal meth’s impact on the brain and why meth psychosis occurs.
Meth can make people hallucinate. While some people may see things that are not there, other people will hear things that are not there or feel strange sensations. Some people feel bugs crawling under their skin after they take meth. That person may attempt to scratch the bugs out, which can lead to meth sores, a symptom of meth abuse and meth psychosis. One in every three meth users reported getting sores or skin infections when surveyed. Injecting meth triples a person’s risk for meth sores over other methods.
Delusions are beliefs that aren’t true or based on reality. Meth causes delusions due to the stimulant’s mind-altering effects.
Different types of delusions exist, including persecutory and referential. Persecutory delusions involve beliefs that someone is being tricked, tortured, made fun or spied on. Referential delusions are situations where someone thinks a public message is a personal attack. One example of a delusion is someone believing that the police are following them.
After taking meth, paranoia can also occur as an effect of the hallucinations. Meth increases brain activity, which can result in paranoid thoughts and rumination. Someone might hallucinate a person or object that they believe intends to harm them, which can lead to paranoid thoughts and actions. Paranoia is also a withdrawal symptom for meth, one that 20% of meth users report having.
One of the most common effects of meth is increased energy. When someone experiences meth psychosis’s effects, such as paranoia or delusions, the increased energy and hyperactivity that occurs due to meth use may lead to aggressive or violent behavior. Almost a third of meth users have reported aggressive behavior during their meth withdrawal.
The aggression that someone expresses due to meth psychosis can be directed at other individuals or themselves. Seek medical attention if a friend or family member has shown increased aggression or made violent threats to you, another person or themselves.
How Long Does Meth Psychosis Last?
Meth psychosis can last for varying lengths of time. In most cases, psychosis will resolve within a week after stopping meth and can be controlled with antipsychotic medications in the meantime.
However, in some cases, meth psychosis may be a permanent long-term consequence of meth use and may be linked to the brain damage caused by the drug. One study showed that a person recovering from meth had multiple episodes of meth-induced psychosis for a year after stopping meth, even though they were taking antipsychotic medication.
Treatment Options for Meth-Induced Psychosis and Meth Abuse
Most addiction rehabilitation centers have the staff and resources to address meth addiction. In some cases, doctors and nurses may administer medications that prevent withdrawal symptoms from occurring. Doing so can provide comfort for the patient during the detoxification stage of recovery. However, substance abuse can cause someone to experience psychosis, which should be addressed concurrently with addiction rehab.
The treatment plan for psychosis may resemble that of schizophrenia or other paranoia-involved disorders. Treatment usually involves a combination of therapy and medication, which often includes antipsychotic drugs to diminish the effects and frequency of delusions or hallucinations.
Identifying a meth addiction is the first step toward beginning treatment. The Recovery Village’s meth self-assessment can provide insight into whether you or your loved one is addicted to the drug.
Treatment for meth addiction and psychosis often requires a dual diagnosis and individual treatment plans for each condition. The Recovery Village has facilities located throughout the country and provides support for treating addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. At one of The Recovery Village’s facilities, patients will be under the guidance of doctors, nurses and counselors who have helped many people recover from their dependence on drugs. If you or someone you know struggles with meth abuse and has experienced psychosis, call The Recovery Village to receive a free assessment and begin building a recovery plan for a better future.
Shariat, Seyed Vahid; Elahi, Adele. “Symptoms and Course of Psychosis After Methamphetamine Abuse: One-Year Follow-Up of a Case.” Primary Care Companion, 2010. Accessed April 26, 2021.
Partnership for a Drug Free World. “The Truth About Crystal Meth and Methamphetamine.” Accessed April 26, 2021.
World Health Organization. “Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings.” 2009. Accessed April 26, 2021.
Glasner-Edwards, Suzette; Mooney, Larissa J. “Methamphetamine Psychosis: Epidemiology and Management,” CNS Drugs. September 19, 2016. Accessed April 26, 2021.
- Medical Disclaimer
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.