If you want to peak into the life of a person who once lived with meth psychosis, read about the pop star, Fergie, in the Marie Claire article Fergie Just Revealed Terrifying New Details About Her Former Addiction To Crystal Meth. Paranoia, dementia and hallucinations were a pretty regular part of her life for a while. And for chronic meth users, they are often the norm when meth psychosis kicks in.
In the community of drug abuse treatment and prevention crusaders, there are few people foolish enough to deny that a meth high must feel pretty good. But, when meth highs evolve into hallucinations and delusions, the fun starts to lose its appeal. When the tweaking introduces paranoia into a drug user’s mind, the high takes on new sharp and jagged edges. From a biological perspective, the meth abuser’s brain chemistry is out of whack. Some neurons are firing when they shouldn’t while others fail to fire when they should. For a few hours, that succulent dopamine is flowing abundantly. Then, when the high wears off, the dopamine dries up like rain after a storm in the desert. The extremes are unsustainable.
Meth psychosis occurs as the meth starts to impact the natural balance of the chemicals in the brain. The brain responds with extreme measures that trigger problems manifested in meth psychosis such as delusions. By consuming the meth, an abuser is constantly destroying the homeostasis of the brain chemistry.
Taking meth results in huge amounts of dopamine being circulated throughout the brain unnaturally. The gluttony of dopamine has many adverse effects. It causes the natural dopamine reserves to empty, and that leaves the mind in a condition where it can’t produce enough new dopamine to catch up with the demand.
Meth usage affects the amygdala. When it gets stimulated by the meth, it increases the fear levels which makes a person think that they have entered the survival mode. People who experience this feel a sudden urge to escape falsely perceived danger, or paranoia, as their brain is out of whack. The temporal lobe is also very sensitive to fluctuations in dopamine availability. The temporal lobe processes sound and pain signals. So, it’s easy to understand why people living with meth psychosis might have auditory hallucinations and feel strange sensations on their skin. Meth substance abuse also distorts the functions directly related to the limbic system and prefrontal cortex. This defeats the brain’s impulse control and stimulates aggressive behavior and violence.
These are not just occasional symptoms of chronic amphetamine abusers experience. They are likely symptoms. And most individuals experience two or more manifestations of meth psychosis. The first psychotic episodes appear after abusing meth for just a few months in most users. These individuals tend to lose touch with the reality and experience extreme psychotic conditions. The kinds of conditions that cause people to retreat from normal life, run into trouble with the law, and require extensive inpatient psychiatric care.
The Meth Psychosis Experience
Paranoia afflicts meth users to the point that they think that others are trying to get or harm them. Their suspicion is not limited to acquaintances or friends, but they often lose trust in family and loved ones. And then there are paranoias about government, cabals, high-profile businesses, and other conspiratorial organizations. They may single out random objects claiming that they are surveillance tools used to keep an eye on them. Their paranoia often centers around fears that someone is actively hunting them to steal their drugs.
Hyperactivity among chronic meth abusers tends to manifest itself through obsessive-compulsive behaviors. This usually results in activities such as washing their hands several times per hour, constant cleaning, checking the door and window locks over and over. Some of these repetitive actions are self-destructive such as using fingernails to create numerous small cuts on their forearms. Other meth psychosis sufferers will pull out significant amounts of their hair, but over the course of a few weeks, a strand or two at a time. Some individuals obsessively check for loose teeth. And by checking so much, they end up loosening them and causing them to fall out.
Delusions are strong personal beliefs that are contrary to reality. Reasoning with a person about their delusions or providing proof that they are false cannot correct their creative misperceptions. Often meth users think that a part of their body is changing dramatically. For example, a patient will tell their doctor that their brain is decomposing. Many delusions center around the fear that the police, FBI or CIA is looking for them. An individual experiencing meth psychosis may claim someone else is controlling them, overriding their free will, and executing their actions.
Hallucinations are experiences of apparent perceptions of things that aren’t present. They’re associated with any of the five senses. Meth users see imaginary people or perceive disturbing scenes. Often the first hallucinations individuals experience are auditory. They may hear an imperceptible mumbling voice in their head. Over time the voice or voices become clear. In extreme cases, the voices insult the hallucinating person or issues violent commands. Some individuals experience smell and taste sensations that have no justification. The hallucination of bugs crawling under the skin is classic for victims of methamphetamine dependence.
Getting Help for Meth Psychosis
Many meth psychosis patients reach a point when they are dangerous. Their involuntary recovery and detox start in jail or on a lock-down hospital psychiatry floor. Once an acute patient’s psychosis had diminished, they may have the option of transitioning to traditional a residential inpatient rehabilitation center.
Patients who notice early signs of psychosis have more options. If individuals self-refer to detox, they often choose to start recovering in an inpatient residential rehabilitation environment that insulates them from the rampant availability of meth and the people who encourage them to use. They also appreciate how their detox can be medically supervised on an around-the-clock basis. An outpatient program is a good option for patients with a strong social support system. If they can function in their job, school, family, and other social environments they can live at home and participate in ongoing visits.
The meth detox process varies from that of other drugs. Detoxing can temporarily amplify meth psychosis, so it can be physically and psychologically intense. Nevertheless, detoxing from meth is safer than detoxing from opioids, alcohol, and many other substances of abuse. Unlike other drugs, there are no pharmaceuticals that directly counteract the meth withdrawal. Doctors often prescribe antidepressants and other drugs to strengthen the patient during this challenging time. But, antidepressants often need a few weeks to ramp up and start working.
Withdrawal symptoms include:
- Wanting to do meth
- Insomnia and erratic sleeping patterns
- Difficulty concentrating
- Social withdrawal
After detox, patients continue to receive medication for depression and any other behavioral conditions they experience. They retool their life with counseling sessions, group therapy, and family classes.