Recreational drugs, like cannabis or hallucinogens, can alter people’s perception of reality. This is called drug-induced psychosis, or the inability to distinguish what’s real.

If you use these drugs deliberately, you may be seeking that psychosis experience. But sometimes, that short-term break from reality can develop into a more chronic condition.

If psychosis persists after the initial substance use, you may have a condition called drug-induced schizophrenia. This chronic psychotic disorder causes symptoms like hallucinations and delusions. These symptoms occur even when you are not using the substances.

Some prescription medications can also cause drug-induced psychosis. Other substances, especially if not used properly, may also cause it.

Not everyone who experiences drug-induced psychosis will develop schizophrenia, but some will. And while the two conditions are closely related, their outlook and treatments are quite different.

This article will look at who is at risk for developing drug-induced schizophrenia and what can be done to treat it.

To understand drug-induced schizophrenia, it helps to understand a similar but different condition: drug-induced psychosis.

When a person uses any type of substance, such as recreational drugs or prescription medications, they can have a reaction or response to it. In some cases, that response is what they want. They deliberately take the substance to achieve results like a temporary break from reality.

In other cases, the psychosis is not intentional. It may happen if you’re trying a new medication, combining two medicines for the first time, or using a specific drug or substance.

Many people will recover from that short-term psychosis without any sort of treatment. Once the effects of the drugs wear off, the symptoms have likely gone away.

Other people, however, may go on to develop a chronic condition called drug-induced schizophrenia. This condition encompasses many of the symptoms of drug-induced psychosis, such as delusions and hallucinations. But the symptoms are often worse, and they are chronic.

Schizophrenia vs. psychosis

Drug-induced psychosis: This is a short-term lapse in your brain’s ability to understand what is real and what isn’t. You may deliberately seek psychosis with the use of some substances. The psychosis should end after the substance is no longer affecting your central nervous system.

Drug-induced schizophrenia: This is a chronic mental health condition. It occurs after exposure to a substance, but it is not directly the result of the substance use. Instead, it may be the result of a complex web of factors, such as hereditary risk and other mental health concerns. Substance use and previous psychosis may kick-start the condition.

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The symptoms of drug-induced schizophrenia include:

To be considered drug-induced schizophrenia, you must be experiencing two of these above symptoms regularly. And one of those symptoms must be delusions, disorganized speech, or hallucinations.

Drug-induced schizophrenia is a long-term condition. That means these symptoms will be ongoing.

They may wane in severity or intensity. Some may be more severe than others at times, and each person’s symptoms and experiences will differ.

Using drugs or medications alone will not cause drug-induced schizophrenia. Not everyone who uses these substances will later develop the condition, either.

Research suggests that people who develop it did use a substance at some point, but they also had pre-existing concerns that contributed to the condition’s development.

In other words, substances alone will not cause drug-induced schizophrenia, but drug use may get it started.

One study found that approximately 1 in 4 people who experienced drug-induced psychosis eventually developed drug-induced schizophrenia.

Another study from 2017 found similar results: 17% of people admitted to a Scottish hospital for drug-induced psychosis went on to develop schizophrenia. Most people received that diagnosis within 5 years of being admitted to the hospital, according to the study.

However, it’s important to know that researchers do not understand precisely what drugs influence this or how the symptoms develop.

Any drug or substance can lead to drug-induced schizophrenia. Some are more likely to be connected to it than others.

It doesn’t have to be prescription medication or recreational drugs, either. Any substance, especially if it’s not used as intended, could cause these issues.

One study from 2020 found that three common types of drugs were the strongest predictors that a person might go from drug-induced psychosis to drug-induced schizophrenia. In order, these are:

  • cannabis
  • hallucinogens
  • amphetamines

There are lower rates of transition from drug-induced psychosis to drug-induced schizophrenia for opioids, alcohol, and sedatives.

Other substances can also be linked to drug-induced psychosis and eventually schizophrenia. These drugs include:

  • inhalants
  • alcohol
  • sedatives
  • hypnotics
  • anxiolytics, or anti-anxiety medication
  • stimulants, such as cocaine

Other medications may also cause play a role in the development of drug-induced schizophrenia. These may include:

  • antihistamines
  • cardiovascular medications
  • corticosteroids
  • antidepressants
  • gastrointestinal medications
  • chemotherapy drugs
  • over-the-counter pain relievers, including analgesics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • anticonvulsants
  • antihypertensives

It is also possible that other substances could be connected to drug-induced schizophrenia as well. This is more likely if the substances aren’t taken as intended.

You may experience symptoms of psychosis, so it’s important to note that psychosis can develop into the more chronic concern later.

Drug-induced schizophrenia is a lifelong, or chronic, condition. If you develop it, you will likely experience symptoms for the remainder of your life.

It is possible to manage long-term symptoms and reduce the effect they have on your life.

Drug-induced schizophrenia is a lifelong condition, and it will likely require a close connection between you and a mental health professional to manage the symptoms.

Treatment for the condition includes:

  • Psychosocial supports: This may include vocational training, which helps you maintain a steady job.
  • Family support: Your immediate family and close friends will need to learn ways to manage the condition and ways to support you. A mental health professional may recommend attending classes or training sessions.
  • Social skills training: You may find interacting with others in social settings more difficult because of the effect of delusions or hallucinations. This training can help you engage with others while feeling confident in your responses and skills.

You may need to undergo rehabilitation to stop using any substances or medications that worsen your condition. Substances can interfere with schizophrenia treatment, so treating one requires treating the other.

Drug-induced schizophrenia is a condition that develops after substance use. It is not directly the result of substance use. Instead, it is likely a combination of factors, including drug use, family history, and other underlying concerns, according to research from 2018.

Drug-induced schizophrenia is a lifelong condition. The symptoms will persist, to some degree or another, for the remainder of your life. You can manage them, though. A mental health specialist can help you find treatments that work for you and your specific needs.