People who are suffering from schizophrenia have higher rates of substance use disorders (SUDs) than the general population. One study revealed that 47% of individuals with schizophrenia also struggled with alcohol or drug abuse compared to 16% who didn’t have the psychiatric disorder and other studies have subsequently reflected this wide disparity.

Although researchers agree on the frequency, they’re not exactly sure why the connection is so strong. Or there may be more than one answer. One answer could be that substance use disorders and schizophrenia tend to run in families. Still, this could be a combination of several overlapping factors.

Common
Co-Occurring Disorders

First, it’s important to realize that SUD is also a mental illness. Drugs change how your brain is wired and how it operates. This is the reason why some people crave and seek out certain drugs, even though it causes some negative results. When combined with schizophrenia or other mental illnesses, it is called a co-occurring disorder or a dual diagnosis. Approximately 50% of people with a mental disorder will also have SUD at some time and vice versa.

What is
Schizophrenia?

The National Institute of Mental Health describes schizophrenia as a serious mental illness that affects how you think, feel, and behave. Individuals with schizophrenia may appear to have lost touch with reality. This can be upsetting for them and their friends and family. Schizophrenia can make it hard to take part in typical, everyday activities. However, effective treatment is available and many people can participate in work or school, live independently, and enjoy relationships.

What are the
Signs and Symptoms of Schizophrenia?

Getting help for schizophrenia as early as possible is crucial so it’s important to recognize the symptoms. Schizophrenia is typically diagnosed between the ages of 16 and 30, after the first incident of psychosis. During a psychotic episode, the person’s thoughts and perceptions are disturbed and they may have a problem perceiving what is real and what isn’t real, a loss of contact with reality.

Symptoms can be different from person to person, but still fall into 3 main categories:

Psychotic Symptoms

Psychotic symptoms include changes in the way the person thinks, acts, and relates to the world. A person experiencing psychotic symptoms will frequently have disorganized thoughts and perceptions and may have problems identifying what is real or not. Psychotic symptoms include:

When a person hears, sees, smells, tastes, or feels things that aren’t there. Hearing voices may occur long before family or friends detect a problem.

When a person has firm beliefs that aren’t true and seem irrational to everyone else such as believing that people on TV or radio are sending them special messages.

When the person has unusual or illogical ways of thinking. Individuals with thought disorders have trouble organizing their thoughts and speech and may jump from subject to subject, stop in the middle of a thought, or make up meaningless words.

Negative Symptoms

Negative symptoms include:

They may have trouble planning and completing activities.

Withdrawing from social activities and avoiding social interaction or interacting in socially awkward ways.

There is a problem anticipating and being motivated by pleasure in ordinary life.

The person may speak in a dull voice and have limited facial expression.

They may have very low energy and spend a lot of time in passive activities. In severe cases, they may stop moving or talking for some time. This is a rare condition called catatonia.

Cognitive Symptoms

This group of symptoms includes attention, memory, and concentration.  They make it difficult to follow conversations, learn new things, or remember appointments.

Cognitive symptoms include:

  • Difficulty processing information for decision-making
  • Having problems using information soon after learning it
  • Difficulty focusing or paying attention

What Causes
Schizophrenia?

The cause of schizophrenia is not known at this time. However, researchers believe that a combination of genetics, environment, and brain chemistry may play a part. It is believed that changes in some naturally occurring brain chemicals including neurotransmitters called glutamate and dopamine may have a role in the disorder.

Studies with neuroimaging show changes in the brain structure and central nervous systems of individuals with schizophrenia illustrating that schizophrenia is a brain disease. There are risk factors that appear to make schizophrenia more likely, such as:

  • A history of schizophrenia in the family
  • Life experiences including living in poverty, stress, or danger
  • Using mind-altering (psychoactive or psychotropic) drugs as a teen or young adult
  • Pregnancy and birth issues such as:
  • Not getting enough nutrition before or after birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Exposure to viruses or toxins before birth that may have affected brain development

What’s the Connection Between
Schizophrenia and Drug Use?

Researchers have proposed several theories and findings that help explain the connection between schizophrenia and substance use disorder.

There might be an overlap in the brain circuits involved with both disorders. Over time, drug use causes brain changes in some of the same areas that schizophrenia disturbs.

There is also a theory that problems in the reward circuitry of the brain that are affected by schizophrenia may be partly responsible for the increased rate of SUDs in people with schizophrenia. Drugs may be more gratifying for people with abnormal brain wiring.

People with mental illness often use drugs to self-medicate. Some psychiatric experts think that people with schizophrenia start depending on drugs because they believe it helps relieve some of their social functioning symptoms.

Complications of Schizophrenia

If not treated, schizophrenia can cause serious problems that may affect every area of life.

Complications that may occur include:

  • Suicide, suicide attempts, and suicidal thoughts
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety disorders
  • Depression disorders
  • Misuse and abuse of drugs or alcohol
  • Inability to attend school or work
  • Problems with money and homelessness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Being victimized
  • Violent or aggressive behavior, even though people with schizophrenia are more apt to be victimized rather than victimize others

Can Schizophrenia
Be Prevented?

There’s no definite way to prevent schizophrenia but sticking with a treatment plan can help stop symptoms from returning or getting worse. It is hoped that learning more about the risk factors for schizophrenia may promote earlier diagnosis and treatment.

How is
Schizophrenia Treated?

There is no cure for schizophrenia but lifelong treatment with psychosocial therapy and medicines can help manage the condition. It’s important to continue treatment even when the symptoms ease up. If symptoms are severe, admission to a hospital may be necessary. A treatment team guided by a psychiatrist experienced in treating schizophrenia usually includes a psychologist, social worker, psychiatric nurse, and a case manager.

Medicine is the main form of treatment for schizophrenia. Antipsychotic medications help control symptoms by affecting the brain neurotransmitter dopamine. The goal is to manage symptoms at the lowest dose. Different drugs, combinations of drugs, and different doses may be tried. Antidepressants, mood stabilizers, or antianxiety drugs may also help.

After the symptoms begin to improve, continuing the medication is important. Psychological and social or psychosocial treatment is also important. These include:

Individual Therapy

Individual therapy helps to improve thought patterns. The main type of talk therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps a person identify and change any negative behavior and thoughts that are causing difficulties. In addition, learning to deal with stress and recognize early warning signs of the return of symptoms helps people manage their illness.

Social Skills Training

The focus of social skills training is to help improve communication and social interactions to help individuals participate in daily life effectively.

Family Therapy

Family therapy helps families get support and learn how to deal with schizophrenia.

Vocational Rehabilitation

Vocational rehabilitation helps people prepare for, find, and keep a job.

During times of severe symptoms, it may be necessary to stay in a hospital for their safety.

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may be needed for adults with schizophrenia that doesn’t respond to therapy.

Music, art, dance, or drama therapies help people express their feelings and also help them understand traumatic events that might be contributing to their psychotic experiences.

What Treatment Does
California Addiction Treatment Offer?

California Addiction Treatment offers treatment for dual diagnoses such as schizophrenia and drug use. We have a dual-diagnosis treatment program specifically for treating co-occurring conditions such as this. You or your loved one will live in a safe, secure facility with round-the-clock supervision at our residential treatment center.

We also have a medical detox team of professionals to help with any drug withdrawal symptoms. Detox can be a dangerous period and some withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening. Medical monitoring is important during detox.

Our licensed professional therapists are experienced in addiction therapy including:

If you recognize symptoms of schizophrenia and drug abuse in your family or yourself, there is no time to wait. We can help you get the treatment you need. Contact us today.

Schizophrenia and Drug Use

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