The effects of drug and alcohol use on individuals coping with psychosis

July 28, 2016 - Michael Birnbaum, MD

Drug and alcohol use can have devastating effects on individuals coping with psychosis

Coping with a mental illness can be difficult even on the best day. When drugs or alcohol are added to the mix, things can get complicated and often dangerous.

Not only are there the obvious risks of addiction and overdose, drugs and alcohol can also damage the brain and body in a variety of ways. For individuals who have experienced psychosis, the problems associated with drug or alcohol abuse can be particularly detrimental.

Cocaine and amphetamines

Some drugs, such as cocaine and amphetamines, are distinctly dangerous to those who have experienced psychosis. Also, these drugs can cause drug-induced psychosis, a condition which can look very similar to schizophrenia, making diagnosis and treatment more difficult. Drug-induced psychosis usually results from prolonged or heavy drug use. This type of psychosis can last several days or longer, and symptoms usually include hallucinations, delusions and confusion. Fortunately, this condition responds very well to treatment. Thus, if you or a loved one develops symptoms of drug-induced psychosis, it’s important to seek immediate medical assistance. 

Other drugs, like marijuana, can trigger the onset of psychosis in someone who is already at increased risk for developing it. In fact, there have been a number of recent research projects that have linked marijuana and schizophrenia, suggesting that marijuana use may trigger, worsen or even cause the onset of schizophrenia.

What’s the risk?
It’s not uncommon for teens and young adults to experiment with drugs or alcohol. However, for those with psychosis or other forms of mental illness, the consequences of drug or alcohol use can be severe, including:

  • An increased risk of relapse and worsening symptoms of psychosis 
  • Developing co-occurring conditions such as depression, anxiety or trouble paying attention
  • Slower recovery time
  • Unpredictable and even dangerous side effects when drugs or alcohol interact with prescribed medications

The best advice is to be open and honest about drug and alcohol use because it can dramatically impact your recovery process. Want to learn more? Talk to your team at the Early Treatment Program at (718) 470-0888. We are here to help.