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Schizoaffective Disorder And Addiction

Dr. Anna Pickering

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Anna Pickering

April 3, 2019

When a mental illness like schizoaffective disorder plays a part in addiction, it is characterized as a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. It is important to treat both of these conditions together in order to achieve a successful recovery.

There are five pinpointed characteristics of different schizoaffective disorders that are to be noted: delusions, hallucinations, disorganized thinking, grossly disorganized or abnormal motor behavior, and negative symptoms. These negative symptoms include: impaired emotional expression and a decline in being able to fully engage in self-expressed activities. Schizotypal disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and schizophreniform disorder are all included in the overarching category. Schizophrenia is by far the most common amongst people.

What Is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a brain disorder which impairs the way an individual thinks. It is commonly known as a thought disorder, and involves a variety of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral dysfunctions, such as: delusions, hallucinations, disorganized thinking, and abnormally contorted motor behavior. These types of symptoms usually show up between the ages of 16 and 30. Individuals who experience schizophrenia have symptoms such as:

  • Beliefs that are false and not a part of the actual, physical world. For example, they may fully believe that their internal thoughts are being broadcast on the radio.
  • Daily hallucinations such as: seeing, hearing, smelling, or feeling things that no one else can perceive. The most common of these is hearing voices which talk to them or instruct them to carry out a specific task.
  • Speech that is jumbled, which includes having a greater challenge in organizing their thoughts, or creating words that make no sense to anyone else.
  • Overly disorganized or catatonic behavior.
  • Other symptoms which affect them in an even more negative light include: a disillusion with day-to-day life, isolating themselves from others, no motivation, and speaking issues when forced to interact in a crowd.

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Schizoaffective Disorder And Addiction

According to studies made by the NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse), people with schizoaffective disorders are more prone for substance usage. Individuals diagnosed with anxiety or cognitive problems are twice as likely to have a substance abuse issue. In 2012 close to 8.4 million adults in the United States had both a mental and substance abuse problem. Sadly, only 7.9 percent of people will get treatment for both of these conditions, and 53.7 percent get no treatment whatsoever. People with severe psychotic disorders are generally not included in the studies between substance abuse and other mental illnesses. This leaves out a whole new set of people who may suffer from these same conditions.

NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow said, “Drug use impacts many of the same brain circuits that are disrupted in severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia. While we cannot always prove a connection or causality, we do know that certain mental disorders are risk factors for subsequent substance use disorders, and vice versa.”

People who suffer with severe mental illness are four times more likely to develop alcohol abuse (four or more drinks per day); 3.5 times more likely to use marijuana on a consistent basis (21 times per year); and 4.6 times more likely to consume other drugs at least 10 times in their lifetime. Tobacco usage, with patients who suffered from intense mental illness, was found to have the greatest increases. Those who suffered with such issues were 5.1 more likely to be consistent smokers. In the United States this is the leading cause of preventable death. Studies showed that 145 percent more deaths occurred from tobacco-related diseases in individuals with schizophrenia. Tobacco-related deaths were 57 percent higher in people with bipolar disorder and 95 percent higher in people who suffered from depression.

Who Is Affected?

“In the general population, women have lower substance use rates than men, and Asian-Americans have lower substance use rates than white Americans, but we do not see these differences among people with severe mental illness,” said Dr. Sarah Hartz, from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and first author on the study. “We also saw that among young people with severe mental illness, the smoking rates were as high as smoking rates in middle-aged adults, despite success in lowering smoking rates for young people in the general population.” In 2011, a study in England found that men who suffered from schizophrenia clipped off an average of 14.6 years to their life, and women who suffered from this disorder lost 17.5 years of their life—most likely associated partially with smoking.

In previous research, people with schizophrenia have a much shorter lifespan than the rest of the world. Chronic cigarette smoking has been a high factor in contributing to higher death rates as well as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. With these new discoveries, it suggests that people with schizoaffective disorders need to be addressed to improve the realization between substance use and these disorders in order to be treated.

175 patients from community clinics and a Veterans Affair medical center in Baltimore were recruited. These individuals had dual diagnosis of deep mental illness and an addiction to heroin, cocaine, or marijuana. Among these, 88.3 percent were found out to be schizophrenia or had schizoaffective disorders, 54.9 percent had major affective disorders, and the last remaining had other mental disorders. 68.6 percent of those who participated abused cocaine, 24.6 percent used opiates, and marijuana had 6.8 percent.

Why Has This Been Ignored?

Clinicians usually did not confront smoking in psychiatric patients, amongst other issues, because of the belief system that nicotine was used as a form of self-medication and improved cognitive ability and counteracted with some medications associated with mood disorders. According to recent research (for example: the new NIDA funded study in Biological psychiatry), they are opening new discoveries for these old beliefs. The consequences for such beliefs are being brought out of the dark corners and into the light, so that people are aware of the issues associated with schizoaffective disorders and the addictive qualities, and can treat these problems.

How Can We Help?

If you or a loved one is suffering from a schizoaffective disorder and has a problem with addiction, seek help today. Your life can be greatly improved through proper medical treatment and a healthy outlook toward a sober future. Please contact us at for more information.

Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration - Mental Disorders

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