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What is Psychosis?

By Debra Stang
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Psychosis is a mental condition that involves a severe mental break with reality. Individuals with psychosis typically experience hallucinations, delusions, or both. Hallucinations are sensory perceptions of things that do not exist, such as seeing things or hearing voices that are not there. Delusions are fixed, untrue beliefs, such as when the sufferer believes that he or she is a god or that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is following his or her every move. Psychotic episodes can result from numerous other underlying mental illnesses, and treatment generally includes the use of anti-psychotic medications.

One common cause of psychotic episodes is an underlying mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe depression, or schizoaffective disorder. These illnesses usually can be treated effectively with a wide range of anti-psychotic medications. Unfortunately, many people who experience psychotic symptoms choose not to take their medications regularly due to side effects, lack of funds to pay for the medications, and paranoia. If the person experiencing these symptoms becomes a threat to his- or herself or others, he or she may require involuntary hospitalization to be re-stabilized on medication.

Another type of psychosis is drug induced — a condition that is caused by acute intoxication with a chemical substance. The drugs most commonly responsible for psychotic symptoms include methamphetamines, cocaine, narcotics, marijuana, alcohol, and sedatives. Symptoms usually resolve when the drug clears the individual's system. Sometimes, individuals who are addicted to a substance will experience psychotic symptoms if they suddenly stop taking that substance and go through withdrawal. Also, some people are highly sensitive to medications, and even a drug taken exactly as prescribed may lead to psychotic symptoms in these individuals.

Organic brain diseases such as Alzheimer's, frontotemporal dementia, and Lewy body dementia can also lead to psychosis. Lewy body dementia, especially, is associated with detailed visual hallucinations. Treatment in these cases can be tricky, as anti-psychotic medications tend to be ineffective and even harmful in individuals with dementia. Some professionals recommend not treating the condition as long as the patient is not disturbed by the hallucinations and delusions. If the individual is bothered by the psychotic symptoms, cholinesterase inhibitors, such as Aricept®, may help reduce them.

Lastly, there is a correlation between psychotic symptoms and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is not known, however, whether the stressful event that caused the PTSD also caused the condition, or whether individuals with psychosis have more problems coping with trauma. This second hypothesis could mean that sufferers are more likely to develop PTSD symptoms than those without psychosis.

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Discussion Comments

By BioNerd — On Jan 06, 2011

I once tried to have a conversation with someone who was having a manic break, and the conversation turned out to be a monologue. Regardless of what I said, the person would not listen to anything I said and instead became very defensive and reacted strongly whenever they felt opposed. I was earnestly trying to help, but their stubborn and violent disposition made it impossible. Fortunately, after treatment and counseling, they are doing much better, and have learned to listen to others and question their own ambitious motives and opinions more often.

By arod2b42 — On Jan 05, 2011

Symptoms of psychosis can include random and haphazard endeavors, sudden dramatic mood swings, and self-directed chattering or laughter. It is important to catch these symptoms before psychosis sets in, as it can be harmful. I have heard of people abandoning their families because of delusional ambitions and relationships due to psychosis. Often it seems that the best remedy for avoiding losing ones mind is sharing it openly with others for the sake of input and counseling.

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