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Psychomotor Agitation Explained

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Once a person has developed a substance dependence, they will struggle to cope without the substance, and the body can react by triggering withdrawal symptoms.

There are many withdrawal symptoms associated with the detox process, and they differ depending on the patient and their circumstances. Psychomotor agitation is one example of a common withdrawal symptom.

What Is Psychomotor Agitation?

Psychomotor agitation refers to a condition that causes an increase in purposeless physical activity, which is caused by a feeling of restlessness or agitation. The types of movements that psychomotor agitation can cause are repetitive, seemingly uncontrollable and often very fast or frantic. Psychomotor agitation symptoms are usually a subconscious response to dealing with anxiety.

People suffering from psychomotor agitation can find the condition distressing once they become aware of the movements, as they feel out of control of their actions. It is also common for people to feel anxious when others notice their psychomotor agitation symptoms or movements.

Types of Psychomotor Agitation

Psychomotor agitation is considered a spectrum disorder that can range in severity from mild to extreme and presents differently from person to person. Their severity characterises the different types of psychomotor agitation.

Mind to moderate manifestations of psychomotor agitation often involves movements or behaviours such as pacing the room, fidgeting, uncontrolled tongue movements or hand wringing. However, more severe types of psychomotor agitation can include actions that are harmful to the individual, such as tearing the skin around their fingernails or other parts of the body until they bleed.

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Causes

There is an intrinsic link between mood and movement; therefore, anxiety and mental tension is a common cause of psychomotor agitation. As a result, mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder, generalised anxiety disorder or schizophrenia often cause psychomotor agitation as a symptom.

In other cases, psychomotor agitation is not caused by mental tension but by alcohol or drug dependence or antipsychotic medication. This is because alcohol, drugs and prescriptions can alter people’s mental states and the way the brain functions, which can lead to symptoms such as psychomotor agitation.

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Alcohol withdrawal is also strongly associated with psychomotor agitation during the detoxification process.

Symptoms of Psychomotor Agitation

Psychomotor agitation manifests in the increase of purposeless physical activity that is unintentional and serves no purpose. All symptoms of psychomotor agitation are a subconscious attempt to relieve tension.

Psychomotor agitation can make individuals feel that they are unable to sit still, to find a comfortable position or even a stiffened body. Other physical symptoms include skin or nail-biting, feet or finger tapping, pacing around the room or taking clothes off and on repeatedly.

In addition to physical symptoms, some people also experience psychological symptoms. One common psychological symptom of psychomotor agitation is racing thoughts or an inability to control thoughts. Some patients may also feel particularly irritable, tearful or exasperated.

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