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Schizophrenia And Substance Abuse: A Co-Occurring Disorder

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

Medically reviewed by

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

April 2, 2019

Watching a family member, friend, or even yourself struggle from substance abuse is challenging, pairing it with schizophrenia is even more difficult. Substance abuse is a mental health disorder because addictions change the way our brain functions. Having two mental health disorders like this is known as a co-occurring disorder. Understanding this condition can help you more easily recover from both.

Are Co-Occurring Disorders Common?

Millions of Americans suffer from substance abuse and around 50% of those afflicted with a mental illness, such as schizophrenia, also suffer from substance abuse. Sadly, it appears that co-occurring disorders are not uncommon.

The substance most commonly abused among those with any given dual-diagnosis is alcohol, although cocaine, marijuana, prescription drugs, and even sleeping medications are commonly abused. For those with schizophrenia, substance abuse is the most common co-occurring disorder.

What Is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a mental health disorder that affects the way a person thinks, feels, acts, and perceives their surroundings. About 1% of the U.S. population struggle with schizophrenia according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The disease affects slightly more than females and is found in every ethnic group globally. Hallucinations and delusions tend to develop around 16 to 30 years of age. Those diagnosed with schizophrenia are also at an increased risk for depression and suicidal thoughts or tendencies.

Schizophrenia, Substance Abuse, Both, Or Another Disorder?

If you or someone you know shows signs of schizophrenia but have not been formally diagnosed, they will need to be evaluated by a mental health professional. In fact, people with schizophrenia may often be mistaken as someone “high on drugs” as certain behaviors related with drug abuse appear similar. And substance abuse disorders profoundly affect the way our brain functions.

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For example, hallucinations and temporary psychosis can be brought upon by abusing drugs like LSD and hallucinations are a key feature of schizophrenia. Other mental health disorders such as eating disorders (anorexia) can also cause a person to hallucinate or experience psychosis. If you suspect someone you know is abusing substances and from schizophrenia, they need to see a mental health professional to be correctly diagnosed. A correct diagnosis is the first step to getting the proper care and treatment the patient deserves.

The Challenges Of Schizophrenia And Substance Abuse

Those suffering from schizophrenia and addiction may also suffer from the negative stigma associated with the diseases. This may cause afflicted individuals to shy away from treatment in embarrassment. When a person with schizophrenia also suffers from substance abuse, they are less likely to follow-through or skip treatment plans prescribed by their doctors.

Patients struggling from dual-diagnosis should have positive role-models (family members, medical professionals), monitoring them to ensure they receive the proper rehab treatment. Remember, substance abuse can actually worsen the symptoms of schizophrenia. Drugs that can increase the severity of schizophrenia include marijuana, cocaine, and amphetamines.

How To Help

Suffering from schizophrenia and substance abuse can pose extreme challenges, but they are not insurmountable. As those suffering from schizophrenia and substance abuse are more likely to skip out of their treatment plans, a good support system of trusted family, friends, and medical professionals should be established to help ensure success. Be sure to attend rehab facilities that recognize dual-diagnosis disorders from doctors that treat addiction and mental health disorders.

Generally, schizophrenia treatment involves anti psychotic medications and also other forms of therapy. Those with schizophrenia and substance abuse seem to respond well to other medications, cognitive behavioral therapy, contingency management, and multidimensional family therapy.

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Substance abuse, schizophrenia, and other co-occurring disorders can present many frustrations for those desiring help. Reach out to us today and we’ll find the help you need to treat your substance abuse and schizophrenia concerns. Contact us today.

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