Prevalence of psychotic symptoms in substance users: a comparison across substances

Matthew J. Smith*, Jagadisha Thirthalli, Arbi Ben Abdallah, Robin M. Murray, Linda B. Cottler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

123 Scopus citations


Background: Psychotic symptoms (delusions and hallucinations) are reported to be increased among persons using illicit substances, but little is known about the comparative frequency with which the symptoms occur with abuse of different substances. To establish this, we interviewed individuals who had wide experience of commonly used drugs. Methods: Four hundred seventy-six intravenous drug users, crack-cocaine users, and heroin snorters recruited via street outreach were interviewed using the Composite International Diagnostic Interview-Substance Abuse Model to assess dependence on a number of substances including amphetamines, cannabis, cocaine, and opioids. As a part of this assessment, we assessed a history of delusions and hallucinations in the context of use of, or withdrawal from, these specific substances. Results: From 27.8% to 79.6% users of amphetamine, cannabis, cocaine, and opiates met Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Third Edition, Revised, dependence for that specific substance. The prevalence of psychotic symptoms associated with each specific substance ranged from users with no diagnosis to users with severe dependence as follows: amphetamines (5.2%-100%), cannabis (12.4%-80.0%), cocaine (6.7%-80.7%), and opiates (6.7%-58.2%). The risk of psychotic symptoms increased for respondents who abused (odds ratio [OR], 12.2) or had mild (OR, 17.1), moderate (OR, 47.0), or severe dependence (OR, 114.0) on cocaine when compared to those who were users with no diagnosis. A similar pattern was evident in cannabis, opiate, and amphetamine users. Conclusions: Most users dependent on illicit substances experience psychotic symptoms in the context of use of, or withdrawal from, these substances. Psychotic symptoms increased with the severity of the substance use disorders for all 4 substances. These findings emphasize the importance of developing services to target this population as they are at a heightened risk for developing psychotic symptoms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)245-250
Number of pages6
JournalComprehensive Psychiatry
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2009
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'Prevalence of psychotic symptoms in substance users: a comparison across substances'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this