Psychotic Episodes

A psychotic episode refers to a break from reality characterised by symptoms like hallucinations, agitation and disillusionment. Also known as a “Psychotic Break” it can harm personal relationships and is often treated with medication. Substance abuse, especially with drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine, can trigger or worsen psychotic episodes. These episodes are not limited to those with pre-existing mental health issues and can result from drug-induced psychosis. Proper assessment and treatment are crucial, especially in addiction recovery, where professionals address both addiction and co-occurring mental health problems. Our understanding of these episodes and their connection to addiction has evolved over time, leading to improved treatment approaches.

Psychosis is not a diagnosis but rather a symptom of certain mental health problems.

Doctors and psychiatrists may use the term “experiencing psychosis” instead of giving a specific diagnosis. Some conditions that may involve psychosis include severe depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, paranoid personality disorder, schizotypal personality disorder, postpartum psychosis and delusional disorder. Some individuals may experience psychosis as a standalone symptom and may receive a diagnosis of ‘brief psychotic disorder’ if it lasts for less than a month and no other diagnosis better explains their symptoms.

Causes of a Psychotic Episodes

Psychosis occurs due to various factors with no single identifiable cause. Understanding the underlying cause is fundamental for effective treatment. Likely causes of a psychotic break include:

  • Genetics
    A family history of psychosis-related conditions like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder increases the risk, though it doesn’t guarantee development.
  • Trauma
    Witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event can trigger a psychotic break, especially in genetically predisposed individuals.
  • Substance abuse
    Abuse of drugs like amphetamines or alcohol heightens the risk of developing psychosis.
  • Brain injuries
    Traumatic brain injuries can lead to psychosis, necessitating vigilance for early signs.
  • Medical conditions
    Psychotic breaks may be associated with mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, schizoaffective disorder, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Stress
    Severe stress can trigger a psychotic episode, especially in individuals with other risk factors.

Signs of a Psychotic Episode

Early signs preceding a psychotic break vary among individuals and may include difficulty concentrating, declining academic or work performance, neglect of personal hygiene, self-isolation, fluctuating emotions or emotional numbness. During a psychotic episode, individuals may experience hallucinations (seeing or hearing unreal things) and delusions (believing untrue things), such as hearing voices, seeing unseen entities or having special powers. Additional symptoms can involve irregular speech, mood swings, anxiety, increased isolation, inappropriate behaviour and disordered thoughts.

Treatment for Psychotic Episodes

Treatment typically combines medication and psychotherapy. Antipsychotic drugs aim to regulate brain chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, glutamate and NMDA receptors linked to psychosis. Psychotherapy options include cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) for symptom understanding and management and family therapy for support and education of loved ones. Combining medication and psychotherapy can effectively manage psychosis based on its severity and underlying causes.

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