Psychosis is the loss of contact with reality. It may result in false beliefs called delusions or sensing things that are not really there (hallucinations).


Psychosis may be caused by changes in chemicals and/or structures of the brain. Some conditions associated with psychosis include:

  • Psychological conditions such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, severe depression, and some personality disorders
  • Medical conditions such as HIV and AIDS, malaria, brain infections, some metabolic or neurologic conditions, including Alzheimer and Parkinson disease
  • Some medications, or abuse of alcohol or drugs such as cocaine, LSD, and methamphetamines
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Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chance of psychosis include:

  • A family history of severe mental illness
  • Brain abnormalities
  • Complications during pregnancy or birth
  • Loss of parent during childhood
  • Poor family functioning
  • Substance abuse



Symptoms can vary but may include:

  • Hallucinations—hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, or feeling things that are not actually there
  • Delusions—unusual or false beliefs
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Sudden changes in mood or bizarre behavior


You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Information about alcohol use, illegal drugs, prescription medications, supplements, and herbs will also be collected. A psychiatric evaluation will be done.

Bodily fluids may be tested to look for the presence of substances that can cause problems or to look for imbalance in the body. This can be done with:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests



Treatment will depend on the cause of your psychosis. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Hospitalization may be needed until the psychosis is managed. Options may include one or more of the following:

Psychological Therapy

Psychological therapy treatments are often recommended in addition to medicine. There are several different types of therapies such as:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy to change unhelpful thinking patterns
  • Family therapy to help your family cope with your condition and identify signs that you may need additional help such as wandering or self-harm
  • Support groups to talk to others who have had similar experiences

The medical team will help determine which therapy or therapies may be best.


Medicines may be recommended to control symptoms. The exact type or combination will depend on symptoms and causes. Some options include:

  • Antipsychotic medicines—to change the action of certain chemicals in the brain and control abnormal thinking
  • Antidepressants
  • Antianxiety medicines
  • Mood stabilizers


Prevention depends on the cause of psychosis. Those at risk for psychosis may be able to prevent a psychotic episode with careful management of related condition.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.


National Institute of Mental Health 

National Mental Health Association 


Canadian Mental Health Association 

Canadian Psychiatric Association 


Olin SC, Mednick SA. Risk factors of psychosis: identifying vulnerable populations premorbidly. Schizophr Bull. 1996;22(2):223-240.

Psychosis. Centre for Addiction and Mental Health website. Available at: Accessed October 4, 2017.

Psychosis. NHS Choices website. Available at: Updated December 23, 2016. Accessed October 4, 2017.

Psychosis. Rethink Mental Illness website. Available at: Updated February 2016. Accessed October 4, 2017.

What is early and first-episode psychosis? National Alliance on Mental Illness website. Available at: Accessed October 4, 2017.