Can Meth Trigger Schizophrenia?

Methamphetamine abuse can cause considerable physical and mental harm. The negative effects of chronic meth abuse can include hallucinations and delusions. These two effects are also symptoms of schizophrenia and certain other mental health disorders. If meth can cause symptoms that are also characteristic of schizophrenia, does this mean that meth can trigger schizophrenia?

What is Methamphetamine? 

Methamphetamine is an extremely powerful and highly addictive drug. This substance, which is a stimulant, typically appears as either a white powder or small crystallized rocks. Depending on which form of the drug a person uses, they may smoke, inhale, swallow, or inject it. 

Meth causes brief but powerful symptoms. When the effects of meth wear off, a person may experience a dramatic decrease in energy and mood. To prevent this, people who abuse meth often use the drug multiple times in rapid succession. It is not uncommon for a person to stay awake for several days while continuing to use more meth every time the effects begin to dissipate.

Signs and Symptoms of Meth Addiction 

The following are potential warning signs of meth abuse and addiction:

  • Intense bursts of energy and activity
  • Rapid heart rate and respiration
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Loss of appetite and resultant unintentional weight loss
  • Severe tooth decay and other dental problems
  • Scabs and sores on the body
  • Dramatic mood swings, including moments of anger and paranoia
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Possession of drug paraphernalia

Meth addiction is a treatable condition. If someone that you know has been exhibiting the signs of meth addiction, their life can improve dramatically if they are connected with the right type and level of treatment.

Dangers of Meth Use 

Any time people use meth, they put themselves at risk for considerable harm. In fact, continued meth abuse can lead to myriad negative outcomes, including the following:

  • Addiction
  • Memory problems
  • HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and other bloodborne diseases
  • Medical problems due to impaired behaviors, recklessness, and poor self-care
  • Development or worsening of mental illnesses
  • Damage to liver, kidneys, lungs, and brain
  • Job loss and chronic unemployment
  • Financial devastation
  • Destroyed relationships with family and friends
  • Social withdrawal

Meth abuse can also cause people to experience hallucinations, delusions, and other symptoms of psychosis. Since people who have schizophrenia also have these symptoms, this has prompted a few researchers to investigate if meth can trigger schizophrenia

What is Schizophrenia? 

Schizophrenia is a potentially debilitating mental health condition. People who develop schizophrenia may have significant difficulties perceiving their environment and communicating with other people. Schizophrenia is not a particularly common disorder, but it still affects millions of people. 

  • The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 0.25%-0.64% of people will experience symptoms of schizophrenia over the course of their lifetime. 
  • With the current U.S. population at just over 332 million people, this means that between 830,000 and 2 million people in this country will develop schizophrenia. 
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that, across the globe, about 24 million people have schizophrenia.

The effects of untreated schizophrenia can be devastating. For example, the NIMH reports that the life expectancy for people who have schizophrenia is more than 28 years shorter than among the general public. Poor self-care and an elevated risk of suicide are among the factors that contribute to lowered life expectancy. 

Signs and Symptoms of Schizophrenia 

Schizophrenia is characterized by five types of symptoms:

  • Delusions: This includes believing things that have no basis in reality. Examples include thinking that a famous person that you’ve never met is actually in love with you, or that the government is secretly tracking you or controlling your thoughts.
  • Hallucinations: This term refers to seeing, hearing, or otherwise sensing things that are not there. Auditory hallucinations, which often include hearing voices, are the most common type of hallucination. 
  • Disorganized speech: This refers to an inability to express one’s thoughts in a clear, coherent, and logical manner. It can include providing answers that are completely unrelated to a question and speaking in a manner that is incomprehensible to others. 
  • Disorganized or catatonic behavior: People who have this symptom may exhibit odd mannerisms, repeat the same behavior over and over again, hold themselves in strange postures, or otherwise act in a way that is inconsistent with cultural norms and expectations.
  • Negative symptoms: Examples of negative symptoms include an apparent disinterest in communicating, an inability to experience joy, and a lack of purpose or motivation. 

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a person must experience at least two of the symptoms listed above for at least a month to be accurately diagnosed with schizophrenia. Also, at least one of the symptoms the person experiences must be delusions, hallucinations, or disorganized speech. 

Can Meth Trigger Schizophrenia? 

Given that some effects of meth abuse are very similar to some symptoms of schizophrenia, it is understandable to wonder, can meth trigger schizophrenia? According to at least one small study, the answer to this question is yes.

This study, which was published in the February 2014 edition of the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry suggests that meth can trigger schizophrenia in certain circumstances. This study involved 30 subjects. Fifteen of these people abused meth and had parents with schizophrenia. The other fifteen were siblings of the people in the first group. These individuals had no history of drug abuse themselves.

In conclusion, the researchers noted that those who abused meth had “significantly more cognitive impairments” than the members of the control group did. After five years, seven of the subjects who abused meth developed schizophrenia. Meanwhile, only one of the siblings in the control group had the disorder. 

Begin Treatment for Schizophrenia in South Florida

Neuroscience Institute provides personalized residential and outpatient services for adults who have developed schizophrenia and a co-occurring addiction to meth or other substances. Our treatment center in South Florida is a safe and supportive place, and our team is composed of skilled and compassionate professionals. If you are in crisis, the NRI team is here for you. Contact us today to learn how we can help. 

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