Causes of paranoia
Paranoid feelings are a normal part of the human experience and are particularly common among people who are vulnerable. For example, when you’re walking alone late at night, you might believe you are being followed or watched, even if you are not; if you’re under a lot of stress, you might think people are deliberately undermining you; or when you haven’t had enough sleep, you might develop unrealistic paranoid ideas, simply because you are tired and your brain is not performing at its best. These paranoid feelings generally don’t cause for concern and will go away once the situation is over.
When paranoia is outside of the range of normal human experiences, it can become problematic. The two most common causes of problematic paranoia are mental health problems and drug use.
Paranoia can be a feature of many mental health problems, including depression and bipolar disorder, but it is most commonly associated with psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia. Paranoia is also the defining characteristic of paranoid personality disorder. Generally, the more severe the mental illness, the less awareness or insight the person has that she is actually experiencing paranoia, rather than the suspected threat from other people, or the world.
Paranoia can be associated with both intoxication and withdrawal effects of several drugs, including marijuana, alcohol, cocaine, etc. The more intoxicated the person is, the more likely he may be to believe that others are against him. While a mildly intoxicated marijuana user may laugh at himself for having paranoid feelings, someone who is high on cocaine, or withdrawing from alcohol, may be so convinced others are against him that he becomes violent, in what he perceives as self-defense.
Because paranoia can be a serious symptom of mental illness, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible if you have experienced significant paranoid feelings, particularly if they have gone on for several days and you are starting to believe that others actually are against you.
Remember, it is natural for people who are feeling paranoid to fear to talk to those in authority, including doctors, so try to keep it at the forefront of your mind that your doctor’s only interest is helping you to feel better.
Your doctor will be able to assess your mental and physical health and advise you on the cause of your paranoia. If you have been using drugs, it may include a period of detox. You might not like this idea, but remember: drug use can trigger dormant mental health problems, so if you continue to use drugs while you’re having paranoid feelings, it could lead to serious consequences.