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Schizophrenia And Addiction

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

June 7, 2019

Schizophrenia and drug or alcohol addiction are common co-occurring disorders. Treatment for schizophrenia and substance use disorders often includes a multi-faceted approached that addresses both conditions.

Schizophrenia is a severe mental health condition that impacts how a person perceives reality. Common symptoms of schizophrenia include hearing voices, hallucinations, and psychosis. This mental health disorder is also linked to higher rates of substance abuse and addiction.

An estimated 50 percent of individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia have also abused drugs or alcohol at some point in their lives. Substances that are commonly abused by people with schizophrenia include alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, and nicotine.

Substance abuse can exacerbate the symptoms of schizophrenia. Addiction can also make treatment for schizophrenia less effective. Many people with these co-occurring disorders will need to participate in a formal treatment program catered to dual diagnosis.

What Is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a brain disorder that impacts an estimated one percent of the American population. Common symptoms of schizophrenia include delusions, hallucinations, lack of motivation, and difficulty concentrating.

When someone is actively suffering from schizophrenia, he or she may be unable to differentiate between what is real and what is imagined. The severity and frequency of schizophrenia episodes will vary from person to person and often decrease as a person gets older.

The following are symptoms that people with schizophrenia may experience:

  • hallucinations and delusions
  • hearing voices
  • decreased ability to experience pleasure or emotion
  • confusion
  • difficulty thinking and speaking
  • bizarre behavior
  • trouble concentration
  • memory impairment
  • distorted perception of reality

People often begin to experience symptoms of schizophrenia in early adulthood. Men tend to display schizophrenia symptoms earlier than women.

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Risk Factors Of Schizophrenia

As with many other mental health conditions, the exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown. However, there are several factors that may contribute to the development of schizophrenia.

Risk factors that influence a person’s susceptibility to schizophrenia include:

  • Genetics — Like many other mental health disorders, schizophrenia is impacted by genetics. Having a relative who suffers from schizophrenia increases a person’s chances of developing the condition.
  • Brain Makeup — It is believed that a chemical imbalance in the brain contributes to the development of schizophrenia. The neurotransmitters that are typically imbalanced in a person with this condition include dopamine and glutamate.
  • Additionally, people with schizophrenia have structural differences in the brain compared to healthy individuals.
  • Early Environment — Individuals who experience complications during birth and other early environmental factors may be at an increased risk of developing schizophrenia.
  • Substance Abuse — Abusing drugs or alcohol at a young age has been shown to increase a person’s chances of suffering from schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia And Substance Abuse

Many people with schizophrenia suffer from a co-occurring substance use disorder. In fact, individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia are an estimated four percent more likely to suffer from addiction than healthy people.

The most common substances abused by people with schizophrenia include:

  • nicotine
  • alcohol
  • marijuana
  • cocaine

People struggling with schizophrenia and substance abuse are at an increased risk for the negative side effects of both conditions. These side effects may include refusal to keep up with psychiatric medication and psychosis.

Additional effects of co-occurring schizophrenia and substance abuse include:

  • violent behavior
  • suicide or suicidal ideations
  • injury or illness
  • inability to function normally
  • more frequent hallucinations or delusions

Schizophrenia and substance abuse can negatively impact every aspect of a person’s life. Seeking treatment for co-occurring disorders is the best way to prevent the consequences and dangers of these two conditions.

Treatment For Schizophrenia And Addiction

Dual diagnosis programs are often recommended for individuals suffering from both schizophrenia and substance use disorders. These forms of treatment focus on treating both conditions simultaneously rather than one at a time.

A detox program is typically the first step in a formal treatment plan. Detox programs allow patients to comfortably and safely withdraw from substances. Once someone has successfully rid his or her body of drugs, inpatient rehab will likely be recommended.

A residential or inpatient dual diagnosis program is often the most successful form of treatment for these co-occurring disorders. Treatment may include medication like antipsychotics, therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy, and other types of counseling.

To learn more about schizophrenia and addiction, contact a treatment specialist today.

Mayo Clinic - Schizophrenia

American Psychiatric Association - What Is Schizophrenia?

PSYCOM - Schizophrenia and Substance Abuse

WebMD - Schizophrenia: What About Substance Abuse?

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