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 psychosis 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 psychosis 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.