Schizophrenia is a mental health disorder that causes psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, rapid mood changes and irregular thought, speech and behavior patterns. If you’re among the 0.64% of Americans with schizophrenia, you know how badly the condition can disrupt your personal relationships and social life.
Schizophrenia is closely associated with several other physical and mental conditions, including substance abuse. Substance abuse is the misuse or overuse of legal or illegal substances such as alcohol, weed, prescription drugs, cocaine and heroin.
People with schizophrenia may abuse some drugs to reduce the severity of their symptoms. However, factors such as genetics and age can lead to substance abuse even before the first schizophrenia symptoms appear.
In this article, the experts from Restore Mental Health explain the complex relationship between addiction and schizophrenia, including the factors contributing to these conditions. They also explore available treatment options for schizophrenia drug use and where to go for help for schizophrenia and drug addiction.
Prevalence of Substance Abuse Among Individuals With Schizophrenia
People with schizophrenia exhibit a higher dependency on alcohol and other drugs than the rest of the population. A study on co-occurring mental conditions found that 70% of people with schizophrenia abuse nicotine, and 50% have a dependency on alcohol and illegal drugs.
Schizophrenia is among the top causes of disability. It’s also among the leading causes of young deaths, with the average person with schizophrenia dying at around 28 years. About 5% of people with schizophrenia die by suicide. Many more die from co-occurring health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, liver disease and substance abuse.
Impact of Substance Abuse on the Onset and Progression of Schizophrenia
Genetics and the age at which you start abusing drugs play a significant role in the initial occurrence of schizophrenia symptoms.
Up to 90% of schizophrenia cases are genetic, which means you’re more likely to develop symptoms if you have one or more relatives with the condition. Similarly, genes can increase your risk of addiction by up to 60%. One hypothesis that tries to link schizophrenia and substance abuse suggests that people who’ve inherited the genes for schizophrenia are also likely to have the genes that lead to addiction. Such people may start using drugs as teens due to social factors such as peer pressure but find it difficult to stop due to their genetic composition.
Environmental and developmental factors, such as trauma experienced while growing up, can also contribute to substance abuse problems. Early substance abuse is a significant indicator of future behavioral and mental conditions, including schizophrenia. Seventy percent of children who start using drugs before their teens become addicts, and over 780,000 teens under 18 develop a drug use disorder. Comparably, many men experience the first psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia in their late teens, and women often experience initial symptoms in their early 20s.
Genetic and environmental factors can combine and intensify schizophrenia drug use. Drugs such as molly, cocaine, heroin and acid can cause psychotic symptoms such as visual and auditory hallucinations. Taking large quantities of drugs such as marijuana and alcohol can also induce hallucinations, while withdrawal from other drugs can cause psychotic symptoms. Consequently, abusing drugs can activate the genes for schizophrenia, and further drug use due to increasing dependence keeps causing schizophrenia symptoms.
The Role of Self-Medication and Coping Mechanisms in Substance Abuse Among Individuals With Schizophrenia
Many treatment methods for schizophrenia and substance abuse rely on the self-medication hypothesis, which suggests that people with schizophrenia abuse drugs to manage their symptoms.
Stimulants like nicotine can improve schizophrenia-related cognitive deficiencies, such as difficulties in thinking, concentrating, understanding and speaking. Using depressants such as alcohol reduces activity in the brain and central nervous system, making you less aware of your schizophrenia symptoms.
Antipsychotic drugs such as quetiapine are also highly abused. Someone with co-occurring substance abuse and schizophrenia may use quetiapine to enhance the effects of opioids like heroin.
Challenges in Diagnosis, Treatment and Recovery for Individuals With Co-Occurring Schizophrenia and Substance Abuse
According to the World Health Organization, less than a third of people with schizophrenia receive appropriate mental health care. These dismal numbers are due to the economic burden of schizophrenia, which can cost an individual upwards of $44,000 annually.
The fact that most people experience psychotic symptoms in young adulthood, coupled with the disruptive nature of such symptoms, means many people with schizophrenia are likely to be poor, unemployed and unhoused. Therefore, they can’t access avenues for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
However, even people who can afford treatment face challenges getting a dual diagnosis treatment. Treating co-occurring addiction and schizophrenia requires a systematic approach that addresses both conditions simultaneously. Many treatment facilities focus on treating either schizophrenia or substance use disorder alone, which leads to poor outcomes and higher chances of relapse.
Integrated Treatment Approaches for Addiction and Schizophrenia
Despite these barriers to treating co-occurring schizophrenia drug use, you can find quality dual diagnosis treatment at facilities such as Restore Mental Health. Our integrated treatment approach involves evaluating your physical and mental health to determine the right program for your schizophrenia and drug addiction.
We collect your medical, family and psychiatric history to create an individualized care plan. We follow the plan as you undergo detox, providing appropriate medications for managing your psychotic withdrawal symptoms.
After detox, you’ll engage in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to uncover and change the negative thoughts contributing to your drug addiction. The treatment also teaches coping mechanisms against schizophrenia symptoms, such as emotional and mood conditions that lead to anger, excitability and compulsivity. Managing these symptoms allows you to compose yourself and seek help before they intensify and cause lasting damage.
Group therapy is also a valuable intervention for schizophrenia drug use. Co-occurring addiction and schizophrenia lead to social isolation, especially if you lose your job or become unhoused. Group therapy lets you form connections with people who can relate to your struggles and develop a support system you can rely on even after finishing treatment.
Restore Mental Health offers an aftercare program for all clients who finish outpatient treatment. The program reinforces the coping skills you learned during treatment and lets you maintain social connections with people you met in our community.
Enrolling in Restore’s dual diagnosis treatment program is one of the best decisions you can make for your journey with addiction and schizophrenia. Contact us to learn about our various payment options that make it easy for you to afford quality treatment for addiction and schizophrenia.