3 Ways I Helped My Adult Child With Meth-Induced Psychosis

Meth-induced psychosis is a state of mind that causes delusions, paranoia, and hallucinations in response to the use of or withdrawal from methamphetamine. The psychosis may resolve on its own but may also need to be managed with therapy and medications. Helping someone with this condition is important, as they can become a danger to themselves or to others if not stabilized. Immediate treatment for psychosis followed by long-term treatment for substance use disorder and any other underlying mental illnesses is essential to prevent future psychotic episodes.

Any kind of drug can potentially trigger a psychotic episode, an experience in which the user loses touch with reality. Stimulants like methamphetamine are particularly likely to cause psychosis. In fact, recent estimates suggest that up to 40 percent of people who misuse meth will experience psychosis at least once.

Substance-induced psychosis is terrifying, both for the user and those around them. When my 24-year-old son had an episode of psychosis after binging on meth, he didn’t know where he was, started hearing things, and became paranoid and aggressive. If you have a loved one abusing substances, meth or another type, understand the signs of psychosis and what to do to help if it happens.

Psychosis Triggered by Methamphetamine

Substance-induced psychosis is a diagnosis that can be made based on criteria in the DSM-5, the manual mental health professionals use to classify mental disorders. Any substance of abuse can trigger this psychosis, but meth and other stimulants put a drug user at a higher risk. Meth use and intoxication, but also withdrawal from this drug, can lead to a psychotic episode.

The definition of substance-induced psychosis is the presence of delusions, hallucinations, or both, either during or within one month of using the drug. Hallucinations are voices, feelings, and visions that feel real but are not. Delusions are false beliefs; these often take the form of paranoid thoughts, like someone is out to get you or do you harm.

Meth-induced psychosis is something that can happen to anyone who uses this drug. My son, Drew, had never had a psychotic episode before this experience. He struggled with drug addiction but was otherwise healthy and stable. This is why it is so important to learn from experiences like ours. This can happen at any time, and it can be dangerous.

1. I Remained Calm in a Very Scary Situation.

My son and I had always been close, but when he went away to college he lost touch with me and his mother. We let him do his own thing because he was growing up, becoming independent. We didn’t push him to check in all the time or even come home often.

Drew graduated from college and got a job, but what we didn’t know was that he barely scraped by that last year. He had started using prescription drugs, then meth. He also drank a lot. When he got fired from his first job, we started to get worried and first had an idea that something was wrong.

My wife and I decided to go over to his apartment for a confrontation. What we found was Drew in the middle of a psychotic episode. His roommate was out and he was alone and scared. He thought there were voices coming from the walls, telling him that he needed to run away.

I had never been through something like this before, but what I did to help turned out to be the right thing. I sent my wife back to the car to call for help because she couldn’t stay calm. I stayed with Drew and managed to keep my voice and movements slow and steady so as not to scare him more. His brother arrived soon after to help me get him into the car and to a treatment center for help.

2. I Got Him a Professional, Accurate Diagnosis.

It turns out that diagnosing meth- or any substance-induced psychosis is not so straightforward. I knew he had been using drugs; I found them in his apartment after dropping him off for treatment. Later, his roommate confessed that he knew Drew had been using meth at least the day before, if not that same day.

This was a big clue for the professionals making the diagnosis. Something we learned in this situation is that drug-induced psychosis looks a lot like schizophrenia. At the clinic he also got a blood test, which confirmed he had meth and alcohol in his system. Because of these factors, and the fact that he had never had a psychotic episode before, our son was diagnosed with meth-induced psychosis.

I had never heard of this condition before, but it made sense given how we had seen our son behave. The team of addiction and mental health experts also diagnosed him with a substance use disorder and, surprisingly to his mother and me, with depression.

The diagnosis was so important, because it helped us understand what our son needed. We knew he had a problem with drugs. But we didn’t know that it could have been at least partially triggered by underlying depression we had never noticed before. Of course, most importantly, this diagnosis meant we could get him the treatment he really needed.

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3. I Pushed Him to Get the Best Residential Treatment Possible.

In short-term care Drew was given benzodiazepines to calm him down. This helped, and about 24 hours later he was back to normal. I knew that he needed much more help than just this medicated push out of a psychotic state—he needed extended, professional help for drug abuse and for depression. And, I learned that having gone through psychosis once, it could happen again with continued drug use. If he didn’t learn to stop using drugs and manage his depression, this could all occur again but the consequences might be worse.

My wife and I insisted on residential treatment. We knew he needed a safe place to recover, where he couldn’t be tempted by drugs or by friends still using. A residential center also offered more types of treatment, different therapies, and medical treatment, so he could get the treatment program that best suited his needs.

Everything I did up to this point was important in helping my son overcome psychosis from using methamphetamine, but getting him into the right residential treatment program was essential. He fought me on it at first, saying he didn’t want me to have to pay for it. But I pushed back and he agreed.

We participated in some family sessions with Drew and watched him change. The distance between us lessened and we became closer again. The hardest thing to accept was his depression. I felt that I should have known and that I could have done something to help him sooner. But the great thing about this treatment plan was that it brought us together again as a family, so we could recognize his mental health issues and help him make positive and lasting changes.

Psychosis is a scary state of mind. I never want to see any of my children in that position again. I feel empowered now to help my son overcome his reliance on drugs and use healthy strategies to manage depression. I know that after treatment and with his family’s support, he can avoid relapsing and that he won’t have to go through that again.

If you’re concerned about a loved one and believe they may need residential care, we can help. BrightQuest offers long-term treatment for people struggling with schizoaffective disorders, schizophrenia, and severe bipolar as well as co-occurring substance use disorders and process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our renowned program and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward recovery.