Psychosis and Related Disorders

According to the National Association of Mental Health, 3% of individuals will experience some level of a psychotic episode, or psychosis, in their lifetime. Those who experience such a psychotic episode do not always develop a psychotic disorder.

Yet, an individual who does have such an experience may be at risk of developing other mental health conditions.

What follows will be a discussion about psychosis, psychotic disorders, and their types, and the causes and risk factors most commonly associated with these conditions. The discussion will help to identify some of the specifics of the condition and its treatment.

What is Psychosis?

Psychosis is a symptom in which individuals can lose touch with reality and develop delusions (a false belief about oneself or others) and hallucinations (usually visual images or sounds occurring in the absence of an actual external stimulus).

While it’s often thought to be a mental illness, psychosis is a symptom of a mental illness.

Psychotic disorders are defined as more severe mental disorders that cause psychosis and other perception-based abnormalities.

Those who suffer from psychotic disorders tend to behold false beliefs and perceptions and are likely to suffer from other associated mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.

Psychotic disorders encompass multiple types of disorders, which will be discussed further.

Types of Psychotic Disorders

There are several mental health conditions along with psychotic disorders that are associated with the symptoms of psychosis. However, all psychotic disorders exhibit an element of psychosis by definition.

Early warning signs of psychosis are sometimes subtle, including behavior such as an alteration in general mood or a tendency to be more isolative in behavior. These can be indicators that a psychotic condition may be present.

While all psychotic disorders are associated with the symptoms of psychosis, each condition differs in its cause, risk factors, and symptomatology.

The Following are Several Common Types of Psychotic Disorders:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Substance-Induced Psychosis
  • Schizoaffective Disorder
  • Brief Psychotic Disorder
  • Delusional Disorder


This chronic disorder is one of the most common psychotic disorders. Those who suffer from schizophrenia have a disassociation with reality, regularly experiencing symptoms of delusions and hallucinations.

Schizophrenia encompasses several subtypes or categories that exhibit differing symptomatology and severity levels. These subtypes include paranoid schizophrenia, catatonic schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and hebephrenic schizophrenia.

Bipolar Disorder

Although this condition is also categorized as a mood disorder, it is also considered a type of psychotic disorder, especially in the most severe cases. Psychotic features such as delusions and hallucinations frequently occur in bipolar disorders, both in manic and depressive episodes.

The broad definition of bipolar disorder includes persistent and extreme mood swings, encompassing both periods of manic depression and episodes of euphoria.

As seen with other mental illnesses, there can be coexisting conditions with bipolar disorder and other psychotic disorders. In addition, those who have existing bipolar disorder are at risk of subsequent development of a psychotic disorder.

Bipolar Disorder

Substance-Induced Psychosis

This type of psychotic disorder occurs in those who suffer from substance abuse. For example, people who experience symptoms of delusion and hallucination while under the influence of certain substances such as amphetamines or cocaine are part of this category.

This psychotic disorder can be seen in all ages; however, it is most commonly diagnosed in teens and young adults.

Causes and Risk Factors of Psychotic Disorders

Although the exact cause of psychotic disorders cannot be conclusively proven, most research suggests that abnormal dopamine levels are correlated with their development.

In addition, other research on the disorder of schizophrenia has also shown the involvement of the neurotransmitters glutamate, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and acetylcholine.

The following are the associated risk factors for psychotic disorders:

  • Age
  • Genetics and Family History
  • Personal History of Mental Health Problems
  • History of Substance Abuse
  • Personal Trauma
  • Traumatic Injury, Specifically to the Brain
  • Extreme Environmental Stress
  • Insomnia

Other possible risk factors include location in a low resource country and educational level. In addition, brief psychotic disorders are seen more often in women.

Treatment of Psychotic Disorders

The medical treatment for psychotic disorders is an antipsychotic medication. The main mechanism of action of these medications is through the blockade of dopamine receptors. Some examples of medications used to treat this condition are Prolixin, Haldol, Navane, Thorazine, and Mellaril.

The decision on a specific medication is often dependent on the individual. Many patients have fewer side effects with certain medications. Some patients will need more effective medication due to the severity of their symptoms.

Treatment of Psychotic Disorders

Experienced mental health providers will provide the best treatment for these individuals and can help them improve their level of function and contentment. Like most illnesses, early detection is often the key to effective treatment and management.

Final Thoughts

Psychosis is the primary symptom experienced by those who suffer from psychotic disorders. Although severity levels of psychotic disorders vary greatly, they are treatable and manageable in most cases by a mental health professional.

Treatment of psychotic disorders includes lifestyle interventions, medication, counseling, and therapy.

If medication is effective in treatment, the medication dosage schedule must be followed at all times to achieve regular improved function.

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