What is Paranoid Psychosis?: Causes, Symptoms & More

Paranoid psychosis can effect around around 3% of the population at one point or another in their lifetimes. While this may seem high, only about 1% of the 3% will typically have a psychotic disorder. Psychotic disorders can consist of paranoid psychosis as a symptom while psychosis is more likely to occur outside of a psychotic disorder (such as schizophrenia).

Paranoid psychosis happens when your mind has been altered and you have experiences outside of reality. Your mind will not agree with reality. During psychosis, hallucinations and delusions occur. When an individual is having either experience, they will believe certain things that are not true.

In this article we’ll take a deeper look at the 6 common causes of paranoid psychosis. We’ll also discuss a variety of commonly asked questions, symptoms and scenarios where paranoid psychosis is seen.

Causes of Paranoid Psychosis

Head Injury

Psychosis can be caused from a head injury if certain parts of the brain are damaged including or resulting in the regular function of chemical balances.

The regular release of dopamine is important for brain health. While head injury being the cause is surprisingly rare compared to others, it may provide some answers for those who suffer from psychosis and have not experienced any of the other causes.

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The frontal and temporal lobes in the brain regulate the chemical activity that is needed to maintain function. When these have been damaged, psychosis is likely to be experienced in some form/level of severity. This is simply due to the impact that a regulated chemical release has on how experiences and reality is interpreted.


As previously mentioned in this article What Drugs can Cause Psychosis: 7 Types, several drugs have been known to cause psychosis.

This is simply because the extreme chemicals found in illegal drugs such as these are so powerful that they alter the natural balance of chemicals in the brain.

Over time, disrupting the brain in this way can lead to permanent brain damage. Hallucinations and delusions are typically experienced when someone consumes drugs such as these.

While this might not happen with each use or with the first few uses, the more distress and damage is placed on the brain, the more likely (and intense) the hallucination and delusions will become. The ultimate result of persistent use in this manner is extreme brain damage and/or death.

The 7 most commonly known drugs that can cause psychosis are as follows.

  • Methamphetamine (Meth)
  • Ecstasy
  • Cocaine
  • Crack Cocaine (Crack)
  • “Bath Salts”
  • Phencyclidine “PCP”
  • Lysergic Acid Diethylamide “LSD”

If you or someone you know is in need of help with a drug addiction, call SAMHSA’s free national hotline at 1-800-662-4357.


Some studies have shown that there is a direct link between extremely high body temperatures/fevers and experiencing psychosis. When someone experiences hallucinations due to a fever, they usually pass relatively quickly.

There usually isn’t any reason for alarm as the hallucinations and/or delusions will subside as the fever goes away. If they seem to be lasting quite a while and other symptoms start to arise, checking with your doctor will be necessary at that point.

paranoid psychosis

While it might be a scary experience to be seeing/hearing things that aren’t truly there, this is typically harmless in this situation.

When the body’s temperature rises to abnormal fever temperatures, this is normal for the inflammation response of the body and is helpful for recovery. However, the high temperatures can cause brain function to be compromised resulting in psychosis.


Experiencing psychosis (hallucinations and/or delusions) has been known to occur when someone is poisoned. While it is unclear which substances cause this, we know of a handful that have been known to cause hallucinations.

Mercury, scopolamine and arsenic are a few unusual substances that have been known to cause hallucinations when someone has been poisoned.

While hallucinations and delusions won’t usually harm the brain when experienced infrequently, it’s important to seek poison control if you believe that you or someone else might be poisoned by any of these (or any other harmful substance).

Psychosis due to poisoning usually happens as a disruption in the brain’s natural chemical balance. This same type of disturbance is also seen with the use of certain drugs as seen in the second example.


People don’t directly inherit psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia or other psychotic issues from your parents. However, the reason why genetics qualify as a cause of developing paranoid psychosis is because much of the same components that are necessary for psychosis to develop, can come from genetics.

Defects in the brain, abnormal chemical behaviors and tendencies toward disorders are essentially “inherited”. Also, environment factors play a key role. There is not one specific gene that causes paranoid psychosis to develop.

paranoid psychosis

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Even if your parents both experience this and you have tendencies or conditions that could cause you to develop it, you are still able to be proactive about treatment. Recovery or avoiding it altogether are very possible depending on the individual’s pre-existing conditions.

Mental Disorders such as Schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s

Schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s are both mental health conditions in which the person experiencing them often has hallucinations and/or delusions.

Someone with schizophrenia will often be delusional about their surroundings and might believe that they are somewhere which they are not. Their hallucinations typically involved hearing and seeing things that are not truly there.

Much of the time this may involve a person/people who are talking or whispering about them. People suffering with schizophrenia have also had experiences where they believe someone is watching, stalking or trying to kill them. Their hallucination will be so convincing that this will impact how they live their lives.

Those with Alzheimer’s may also experience confusion, hallucinations and delusions. Delusions, disorientation and confusion are the most common symptoms out of all of these.

What is Psychosis?

Psychosis happens when your mind has been altered and you have simulated experiences outside of reality. Your mind will not agree with reality.

During psychosis, hallucinations and delusions will occur. When an individual is having a delusional experience, they will believe certain things that are not true. They may believe that their partner is being unfaithful, be convinced that someone is out to harm them or any other delusional scenario that is not actually occurring.

A hallucination is when someone is sensing something that is not real. They may hear voices or see things that are not truly there. Often, people may become deranged, irrational and aggressive.

What are the symptoms of paranoid psychosis?

Aside from hallucinations and delusions, there are many other symptoms of paranoid psychosis. When someone is experiencing this they will appear to be unorganized or “flighty”. They might move quickly around a room or their house without an intentional purpose.

Someone experiencing psychosis might become impulsive and hard to understand. They will think that they are making sense but it might be hard to follow what they’re doing or saying. They will often appear disheveled and messy. Also, they may seem “zombielike” and spaced out, showing little to no emotion when appropriate.

How long does paranoid psychosis last?

The short answer? It depends. The recovery process from paranoid psychosis depends on the condition of the individual. Some people recover immediately while other take months and need professional help to achieve this.

If psychosis has developed seemingly out of nowhere with no forced cause (brain injury, drug use, etc.) then it typically clears itself up relatively quickly with no professional help.

However reoccurring psychosis, especially when drugs, injury or other serious conditions are at play, require special attention in order to achieve full recovery.

Talk to your doctor about you specific needs and concerns. There is no “one size fits all” solution as so many cases are unique.

Is paranoid psychosis the same as schizophrenia?

No. Schizophrenia is a separate mental disorder. Paranoid psychosis is also a mental disorder but is not the same as schizophrenia.

When someone has schizophrenia they will interpret reality (life/everyday experiences) “incorrectly”. This does not mean that they’re always in the wrong, however their reality experience is warped compared to someone without the disorder.

Paranoid psychosis is it’s own disorder when the brain is not functioning properly and hallucinations and/or delusions occur. Psychosis can happen as a result of schizophrenia, however, schizophrenia cannot develop just because someone experiences paranoid psychosis.

paranoid psychosis

Psychosis is often a symptom of schizophrenia but there are many other symptoms that characterize schizophrenia as a whole. People often describe psychosis as schizophrenia simply because of the delusion manner that both disorders typically experience.

What are the 3 stages of psychosis?

In general, there are three stages of psychosis. The prodrome, acute and recovery phases of psychosis. Here is a little bit more on each of the three phases.

Prodrome Phase

This is the phase where psychotic experiences such as hallucinations or delusions are not yet experienced but the individual is headed that direction. The symptoms of the prodrome phase are very similar to what people experiencing burnout describe.

Symptoms like this may include but are not limited to…

  • Sudden lack of interest in work/hobbies
  • Feelings of confusion/overwhelm
  • Irritation
  • Extreme desire to be alone
  • Difficulty focusing or listening
  • Trouble interpreting sounds or conversations
  • Feeling depressed and/or extremely sad
  • Changes in sleep/inability to sleep

Acute Phase

The acute phase is what most people think of when they think of psychosis. Hallucinations and delusions are experienced during this phase. While both are common, one may experience one or the other instead.

Other symptoms during this phase include being extremely disorganized, not making sense to others, and extreme confusion and sometimes fear. People experiencing this phase (especially when it hasn’t happened before) are often really shocked and confused by it.

They might break down crying or seem to be hysterical as a reaction to the unfamiliar experience.

Recovery Phase

After the more extreme symptoms have started to subside, the recovery phase has begun. This may happen on it’s own, however, seeking treatment when someone first notices any of the prior symptoms is highly advised.

The treatment used to recover may determine the length of the recovery phase along with the individual’s specific conditions and overall health.

What are the first signs of paranoia?

Paranoia is often discussed along with paranoid psychosis as many experience a paranoid disorder along with psychosis. The warning signs of paranoia include aggression, extreme discomfort, an inflated sense of being right more than others and general distrust of people.

Being truly paranoid is much more severe than simply overthinking or being suspicious of people. We all have out reservations of certain people or characteristic traits and this is completely normal. It’s a defense mechanism used to protect ourselves.

However, having a paranoid disorder will be predominant in someone’s life and will control much of their experience and relationships.

Paranoid psychosis can seem scary, confusing and disruptive. If you or someone you love is struggling with paranoid psychosis, seeking treatment with a professional counselor will help improve the current situation and expedite receovery.

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Hi, I'm Marissa! I'm passionate about mental and emotional health and want to share what I've learned over the years with others! I've seen first hand how mental health struggles can cause serious issues within relationships, work life, daily productivity, self-worth and more! I truly believe that we owe it to ourselves to bring more awareness to these life changing topics. Start your mental/emotional health journey by learning more today!

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