The Relationship Between Addiction and Paranoia

What is Paranoia?

Paranoia is a thought process that causes irrational suspicion or mistrust of other people. Individuals who are paranoid may report feelings of persecution; in other words, they feel as if someone (or something) is out to get them. These delusions are not based in reality, although those who experience paranoia will attempt to interpret inconsequential events as signs confirming their personal conspiracies.

This phenomenon may occur as a symptom of a personality disorder or dementia, but it can also be caused by ongoing drug abuse.

Paranoia and Addiction

While most people would agree that drugs and alcohol are mind-altering substances, they may not fully understand the extent to which addiction can impact someone’s mental health. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)’s 2005 Treatment Improvement Protocols, there are nine substance-induced disorders. The list includes:

  • Substance-induced delirium
  • Substance-induced persisting dementia
  • Substance-induced persisting amnestic disorder
  • Substance-induced psychotic disorder
  • Substance-induced mood disorder
  • Substance-induced anxiety disorder
  • Hallucinogen persisting perceptual disorder
  • Substance-induced sexual dysfunction
  • Substance-induced sleep disorder

These diagnoses are differentiated from separate, co-occurring mental disorders in that most (or all) of their associated symptoms are directly brought on by substance use. This doesn’t mean that individuals do not have any co-occurring problems; rather, it is an assertion that specific symptoms are more likely the result of substance abuse, intoxication, or withdrawal at a certain point in time. The experts at SAMHSA provide the example of an individual who was previously diagnosed with a well-controlled bipolar disorder, but that same person may be experiencing amphetamine-induced hallucinations and paranoia from a recent amphetamine relapse.

Substances that can cause paranoia during intoxication or withdrawal include:

  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamine
  • Other Amphetamines
  • LSD
  • Bath Salts
  • Hallucinogens
  • Marijuana
  • Alcohol

Substance use can also worsen symptoms of independent mental illnesses, resulting in reduced quality of life, significant discomfort and issues at work, school and at home. When an individual begins to exhibit signs of paranoia or other severe reactions to drug use, it is vital to take action as soon as possible.

Signs & Symptoms

Whether it’s nervousness about a bad performance review or anxiety about making new friends in middle school, everyone experiences paranoid thoughts at some point in their lives. These are differentiated from diagnosable paranoia, which is defined by constant unfounded feelings of unease and persecution. The symptoms may interfere with every aspect of someone’s life, and could include:

  • Negative beliefs about others and their motives
  • Ongoing or constant stress related to these beliefs
  • Feelings of mistrust for others
  • Questioning what others are “up to”
  • Expressing that they are not believed or are misunderstood
  • Saying that they are victimized and persecuted, even when there is no evidence to support this
  • Social isolation
  • Believing that they alone are receiving special messages
  • Gathering evidence to support their beliefs
  • Eccentric behavior
  • Taking precautions to thwart the efforts of persecutors
  • Irritability and hostility, especially when confronted

Unfortunately, because individuals experiencing paranoia have a fundamental distrust of others, their relationships with friends and family members may become strained. Their fear of persecution may result in agoraphobic tendencies: social isolation and a refusal to leave the house. This is precisely when friends and family must step in to intervene.

How to Cope with a Paranoid Loved One

Living with a person who is exhibiting significant paranoia can be challenging. They may behave erratically or express their constant distrust for yourself or others. In order to successfully navigate this relationship, it is vital to create strong personal boundaries and cultivate an attitude of compassion.

Your number one priority should be to encourage adherence to their treatment plan. Whether this involves assistance with access to outpatient care or vigilance about their substance use, it is a hallmark of paranoid individuals to mistrust the very professionals who are trying to resolve their paranoia. By being both loving and firm, you will significantly impact their treatment and recovery.

You should also be sure to take care of yourself throughout this process. It is difficult to deal with the process of seeing a loved one in the throes of addiction, but it is still harder to cope with the nasty statements associated with paranoia. Be sure to set aside time for yourself, whether that’s in the form of alone time, a day at the spa or paying extra attention to your nutrition. Don’t forget to ask for support from loved ones, friends and professionals.

Controlling Substance-Induced Paranoia

Every person’s reaction to intoxication and withdrawal is different, meaning that it is difficult to guess exactly when feelings of paranoia would be alleviated. Fortunately, research shows that most mild substance-induced symptoms generally improve within just hours or days after cessation of drug or alcohol use.

Ongoing abstinence and psychological treatment is the best solution to paranoia as a result of drug abuse. If someone you love has begun exhibiting signs of paranoid delusions because of their addiction, contact Cumberland Heights today. Our team of experts will provide the highest quality, evidence-based care possible. Call 800-646-9998 to learn more today.


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