What happens to a young person who is experiencing a first onset of psychotic symptoms and then starts using or abusing alcohol, cannabis or other substances?

The transition into adulthood is a time when young adults are required to become more self-sufficient and face important life decisions that can shape their futures. This period can be especially stressful and challenging. Research has shown that in vulnerable individuals, stressful life experiences can act as a trigger for the emergence of first psychotic symptoms. When this occurs, some individuals might turn to alcohol, cannabis or other substances to help them manage emerging symptoms such as hearing voices or the accompanying feelings of depression instead of seeking professional help and considering taking medication. Further, for some young people, the abuse or misuse of substances, such as cannabis, that occurs after the start of psychotic symptoms usually prevents the symptoms from improving and can even make them worse. In contrast, for young people experiencing a first episode of psychosis, reducing or stopping substance abuse altogether can be associated with significant improvements in psychotic symptoms, depressive symptoms, and the young person’s ability to lead a meaningful life. Getting treatment to help reduce or stop substance use or abuse early in the course of psychosis can reduce symptoms and has also been associated with better long-term functioning. For additional information, see this guide from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).


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