Research has found that many people who have schizophrenia also suffer from addiction. Treatment for these comorbid disorders typically involves behavior therapy, counseling, medication, and peer support groups.
What Is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a potentially devastating brain disorder that affects about two million adult Americans (1% of the population). People who have schizophrenia are often unable to differentiate between their psychosis (hallucinations and delusions) and reality.
People with schizophrenia may find it challenging to respond appropriately to social situations. This difficulty often results in interpersonal relationship problems or disturbances in other major areas of their life, such as school or the workplace. While the precise cause of the disorder is not known, researchers believe the development of schizophrenia is related to genetics, brain structure and chemistry, and environmental factors that occur during birth such as infection, viruses, or malnutrition.
Schizophrenia Symptoms and Effects
Schizophrenia is characterized by a wide range of symptoms that make it challenging for the afflicted person to function normally. Symptoms vary and may be behavioral, cognitive, or emotional. Common schizophrenia symptoms include delusional thinking, hallucinations, and disorganized thoughts and speech.
A person who has schizophrenia may entertain beliefs that are irrational or unreal.
Delusions may include the following:
- Feeling threatened, harassed, or persecuted by someone real or imaginary
- Erroneously believing that a disaster is about to occur
- Thinking oneself is someone else, such as a celebrity or famous historical figure
These delusions, if left untreated, can be very persistent and it can be challenging to persuade someone with schizophrenia that these feelings or beliefs are untrue.
Hallucinations occur when a person sees, hears, smells or feels something that does not appear to exist to anyone else. Someone who has schizophrenia might be absorbed in a sensory experience that has no basis in what others perceive as reality. Hearing voices, or audial hallucinations, is among the most common of these symptoms associated with those who have schizophrenia.
Disorganized speech is an effect of disordered thinking. Those who have schizophrenia often have difficulty with thought organization and regulation. This obstacle may produce abrupt mid-sentence shifts in topic or the usage of words that are meaningless, nonsensical, or difficult to understand. The individual may also repeat words and phrases, use words that rhyme, or make sporadic, irrational statements.
Disorganized Motor Behavior or Catatonia
Individuals who have schizophrenia might present with disorganized, almost infantile motor behavior, which can include extravagant movements, peculiar postures, and lack of impulse control. The person may also enter a state of catatonia, in which they will not move, speak, or respond to verbal prompts from others for a period of time.
The term “negative” is here used to refer to a lack of or absence of normal functions or behaviors, in contrast to “positive” symptoms, which refer to the presence of some abnormal feature, like hallucinations or delusions.
These symptoms often manifest years before the person experiences their first full schizophrenic episode. Negative symptoms may be misinterpreted as other mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety.
Common negative symptoms of schizophrenia include:
- Lack of interest or motivation
- Diminished emotional affect
- Monotonous speech patterns
- Shifts in sleep patterns
- Becoming socially isolated or withdrawn
- Neglecting appearance or hygiene
The Link Between Schizophrenia and Addiction
Schizophrenia and addiction often co-occur. Indeed, it is estimated that about half of individuals who have schizophrenia have also engaged in substance abuse. It is thought that schizophrenic individuals who also abuse drugs or alcohol do so as a means to self-medicate or mitigate feelings of depression and anxiety.
While substance abuse does not directly cause schizophrenia, it can serve as an environmental trigger. A person with genetic risk factors for the condition may develop full-blown schizophrenia after prolonged substance abuse. Using drugs such as marijuana and illicit stimulants can also worsen the symptoms of schizophrenia and contribute to their severity.
Schizophrenia may be mistaken for substance abuse because the two conditions have overlapping symptoms. This fact can make the diagnosis of either schizophrenia or co-occurring disorders quite challenging.
Treatment for Schizophrenia and Addiction
When managed exclusively from one another, treatment options for schizophrenia and addiction overlap in some ways and typically involve a combination of medication, psychotherapy, psychoeducation and peer self-help groups. Dual diagnosis programs achieve success by addressing both schizophrenia and drug addiction simultaneously, rather than as two separate conditions.
Detox, which is the process of eliminated drugs from the user’s system, is the first step in dual diagnosis treatment. After the user’s body is cleared of addictive substances, a team of addiction professionals can better evaluate the severity of the patient’s schizophrenia symptoms and identify the best course of treatment.
Antipsychotic medications are frequently prescribed to help mitigate schizophrenic symptoms caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. It’s not uncommon for several drugs to be used before the right one is found that can effectively treat a patient’s particular chemical imbalance.
While using medication to manage symptoms, dual diagnosis patients also participate in various therapies to address the underlying causes of their conditions. One of the most common types of therapy employed is family therapy because many people with schizophrenia experience a stressful home life. Family therapy can help lessen the number and severity of stressors that can serve as a trigger for both schizophrenia and substance abuse.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is another essential type of treatment used to treat schizophrenia and addiction. CBT teaches the patient how to recognize certain behaviors or ways of thinking that contribute to their addiction as well as schizophrenic symptoms, such as hallucinations that may persist despite the use of appropriate medication.
Recovery from substance abuse is 100% achievable, and through use of the proper tools and support, schizophrenia can be managed effectively. If you or a loved one is suffering from comorbid disorders, please contact us today to discuss treatment options!