Paranoia is a groundless or exaggerated distrust of others. Someone experiencing paranoia, for example, may suspect the motives of those around them. They may believe that some people are trying to harm them or that something dreadful is about to happen. But unlike being suspicious or fearful about the future, someone experiencing paranoia may not recognize that their fears are unfounded. In extreme forms, paranoia may reach delusional proportions, with the person unable to distinguish between realty and fantasy.
The main symptom of paranoia is permanent delusion. Symptoms of delusion appear gradually and the person experiencing paranoia may feel:
- Suspicious; believes others are plotting against him/her
- Isolated or introverted; reluctant to confide in others, fearing the information can be used against him/her
- Irrational jealousy
- Feelings of being watched or followed
- In extreme cases, belief that his or her thoughts are being monitored or that their home is bugged
The exact cause of paranoia is unknown, but it may be caused by such factors as genetics, neurological abnormalities and changes in brain chemistry. Paranoia is most commonly seen in people with mental illness and people using street drugs, such as alcohol, amphetamine, cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy and LSD. Acute or short-term paranoia may be caused by stressful life situations.
People experiencing severe anxiety or depression can develop problems with paranoid feelings, but the most extreme forms of paranoia are usually seen in people diagnosed with schizophrenia or biopolar disorder. People may develop paranoia at any age, but young people tend to have the most spectacular delusions and young men are affected slightly more than young women.
Paranoia is different from delusions and hallucinations. If you or someone you know is experiencing delusions, you should seek medical advice.