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Substance Addictions

Drug Induced Psychosis: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Written By Brian Davis
Reviewed By Tiffany Green
Medically Reviewed By Dr David Barker
Updated June 28, 2023

Millions of people worldwide regularly fall for the captivating allure of drug-induced euphoria, but inevitably, the high wears off and yields to lows. When these lows drive one to reach for drugs, alcohol, or pharmaceuticals again and again, the mind becomes a chemical battleground where reality blurs. Rational thinking, emotions, and perception wither into confusion, erratic behaviour, and difficulty distinguishing between what is real and what is not. 

While the symptoms of drug-induced psychosis are easy to identify and understand, reacting to and treating a patient in psychosis is more difficult. A 2021 study in the Frontiers of Psychiatry journal stated that the emergence of many new synthetic substances, such as synthetic cannabinoids, cathinone derivates, psychedelic phenethylamines, synthetic opioids, and many more, has created a situation where there are thousands of possible drug combinations that one may take, each with its own chemical fallout and psychotic effects. Not only does this complicate on-the-spot treatment, but it also leads to difficulty distinguishing between drug-induced psychosis and a re-exacerbation of a pre-existing psychotic condition (Fiorentini et al.). 

As the global appetite for nearly all classes of drugs increases (Drug Market Trends), drug-related deaths and tragedies follow suit. Getting a clear understanding of the causes, symptoms, and dangers of substance-induced psychosis might help someone seek professional help in dealing with their addiction before long-term or permanent mental health damage is suffered.

Drug-induced psychosis explained

In layman’s terms, drug-induced psychosis refers to a condition where the use of certain psychoactive drugs leads to a temporary or prolonged disturbance in a person’s thinking, emotions, and perception of reality. In a state of drug-induced psychosis, the mind is confused and distorted, and people have likened it to being in a surreal and frightening world — a nightmare while awake.


Drug-induced psychosis could be triggered through a number of mechanisms. These include drug withdrawal, overdose, or adverse reactions to mixing substances. In all of these cases, there is a disruption of normal neurotransmitter function in the brain, predominantly affecting dopamine. 

Dopamine plays a critical role in regulating our mood, motivation, and perception. Many drugs increase the release of dopamine, and long-term abuse can overstimulate the dopamine receptors making them less sensitive in the long run. Other drugs may interfere with the normal uptake or breakdown of dopamine further prolonging its activity in our synapses. Suddenly halting one’s drug use or an adverse reaction to mixing drugs can lead to drug-induced psychotic symptoms as the brain battles to readjust dopamine and other neurotransmitters back to normal levels (Fiorentini et al.). 

Drugs that are known to trigger psychotic episodes include (NHS):

Mixing these drugs with alcohol, each other, or prescribed pharmaceuticals could potentially cause psychotic episodes or other physical health problems.

Symptoms & Timelines

Like with all other drug-related symptoms and effects, physical or psychotic, it’s nearly impossible to pin down exactly what symptoms one might experience during a drug-induced psychotic episode. In broad strokes, there are representative symptoms frequently elicited by patients; however, the severity of the symptoms and duration of the episode might vary significantly depending on a variety of conditions. The classes of drugs taken, the interplay between different drugs, how long one has been taking the drugs, pre-existing medical and psychiatric conditions, one’s physical health, and other factors all contribute to the final manifestation of drug-induced psychosis.

Some of the representative symptoms of drug-induced psychosis include:

General confusion: The patient might appear to be disoriented, bewildered, and in a state of disconnect with their surroundings.

Agitation: The patient is likely to be in a high state of agitation and irritability.

Visual hallucinations: The patient might experience vivid and detailed images, objects, or people around them that no one else can see. The images can range from simple shapes and patterns to complex scenes or frightening visions. The hallucinations might appear distorted or constantly changing, adding to the confusion and distress.

Auditory hallucinations: The patient might hear sounds or voices that aren’t real. These could be whisperings, murmurings, or booming voices – or random sounds. They might seem distant or directly addressed to the patient. Derogatory or threatening voices could further contribute to fear, paranoia, and confusion.

Delusion: Drug-induced delusions lead to a patient believing false ideas and premises. These delusions could manifest as:

  • paranoia, where they believe that someone or something is out to harm them or is conspiring against them.
  • somatic delusion, where there is a false belief about their own body or physical condition. They might believe they have parasites on their body or that their organs are malfunctioning.
  • other delusions about status, abilities, or other ideas that aren’t grounded in reality.

*** The NHS classifies the 2 main symptoms of psychosis as hallucinations and delusions.

Drug-induced psychosis timelines vary so greatly between studies that it’s difficult to provide any meaningful timeframes. The onset period and duration can vary from a few hours to days and even weeks. The symptoms might or might not resurface after a period of time. A study published in the Schizophrenia Bulletin shows that some people who experience substance-induced psychosis later develop enduring psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia (Murrie et al). Other non-drug-related psychotic episodes might be attributed to previous drug abuse. With so many factors affecting recovery timelines for drug-induced psychosis, we would strongly recommend against taking internet advice and instead consult a physician or medical expert who deals with addiction recovery.


A person in a state of drug-induced psychosis can be a danger to themselves and others. Delusions, hallucinations, and agitation can quickly boil over into aggression, recklessness, self-endangerment, and legal consequences.

  • Impaired decision-making: During psychosis, one’s ability to make rational decisions and assess risk accurately is greatly diminished. This can cause one to engage in risky behaviours such as violence, self-harm, or sexual activities.
  • Self endangerment: In addition to being less risk-averse, somatic delusions can cause one to harm themselves in a moment of panic. One might also hurt themselves trying to get away from fearsome hallucinations.
  • Harm to others: Paranoid delusions can cause one to believe that the world is conspiring to get you. This could lead to someone having a psychotic episode and becoming hostile and aggressive, resulting in physical and verbal confrontation.
  • Increased vulnerability: Someone in a state of psychosis is more vulnerable to exploitation, manipulation, or victimisation. Unfortunately, there are people who take advantage of people suffering from drug abuse, convincing them to take actions they otherwise would not. Examples of this could include coercion into breaking the law or risky sexual behaviour.
  • Long-term consequences: Prolonged or recurring drug-induced psychosis episodes can lead to serious mental health disorders such as schizophrenia, mood disorders, or anxiety disorders. It could also lead to long-term cognitive impairment, memory problems, and difficulty functioning as a normal member of society.
  • Legal and social consequences: Erratic behaviour during psychosis could lead to one’s arrest and legal prosecution. It could also be grounds for termination from work, strain family- and social relationships, and cause isolation.

The dangers of drug-induced psychosis are clearly serious and diverse. While the majority of casual drug users won’t experience psychosis and can manage their use to some extent; the global increase in the production and use of narcotics, prescription drug abuse, and new pharmaceuticals hitting the market all combine to create emerging threats to more and more people.

If you or a loved one are on the path to substance addiction or already walking it, please consider getting professional assistance from drug addiction specialists before drug abuse takes a complete hold. Ending drug abuse is challenging in every sense of the word; however, the consequences of long-term substance abuse, withdrawal symptoms, and the risk of permanent mental health damage far outweigh the difficulties of ending drug abuse. Professional medical support and modern addiction treatments can make this process much easier and dramatically improve the chances of long-term success.

Gladstones Clinic Drug Addiction Rehab Treatment

The substance abuse rehab experts at Gladstones Clinic have been helping people get through the dark side of drug and alcohol abuse for more than 20 years. Some of our now highly experienced and educated staff were patients with us once and have very real experience with the agony of drug- and alcohol withdrawal and drug-induced psychosis. It is our sincere wish that anyone who has experienced drug-induced psychosis, or might in the future, has the courage to make dramatic changes to their lifestyle before permanent damage is done. 

Gladstones Clinic provides a comprehensive range of services for individuals undergoing substance abuse rehabilitation, including medically supervised residential detoxification, primary care, and secondary care. Going through the detox and primary care phases of rehab in a private residential facility greatly improves the chances of a successful recovery. Experienced and qualified medical professionals might prescribe drugs that ease the discomfort of withdrawal and psychosis, while our primary care programme –developed and honed over two decades– helps to uncover and address the root causes of addiction using a range of modern, holistic, and integrative therapies. 

Learn more about our pharmaceutical, substance, and alcohol detox and rehabilitation programmes. 

If you or someone you care about is battling drug or alcohol addiction and seeking professional help, don't hesitate to reach out to Gladstones Clinic

Our compassionate staff is ready to provide the information, support, and advice you need. Contact us to take the first step towards reclaiming your life.

Works Cited

“Causes – Psychosis.” NHS, NHS, Accessed 20 June 2023.

“Drug Market Trends.” UNODC, United Nations, 13 June 2022, Accessed 20 June 2023.

Fiorentini, Alessio, and F. Cantu. “Substance-Induced Psychoses: An Updated Literature Review.” Frontiers in psychiatry, vol. 12, no. 694863, 2021. National Library of Medicine, Accessed 20 6 2023.

Murrie, Benjamin, et al. “Transition of Substance-Induced, Brief, and Atypical Psychoses to Schizophrenia: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” Schizophr Bull, vol. 46.3, 2020, pp. 505-516. National Library of Medicine, Accessed 20 6 2023.

“Overview – Psychosis.” NHS, NHS, Accessed 20 June 2023.

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