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Schizophrenia and Addiction

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Medically reviewed: 06/27/2018
Last updated: 05/15/2019
Author: Addictions.com Medical Review

Reading Time: 3 minutes

What Is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a rare, chronic, and serious mental disorder that affects how a person thinks feels and behaves to a disabling degree. Sufferers experience both difficulties understanding reality as well as cognitive symptoms that severely impinge on daily functioning. Symptoms of the disorder usually manifest between the ages of 16 and 30.

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Individuals with schizophrenia may cycle through active phases wherein they seem to lose touch with reality and residual periods featuring only negative symptoms such as depression and difficulty showing emotions. During these residual periods, cognitive symptoms such as inattention or difficulty processing information may also persist, leading to continual difficulties in relationships and inadequate self-care.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Schizophrenia?

To be diagnosed with schizophrenia, an individual must have experienced at least two symptoms of the illness (such as delusions or hallucinations) for at least a month, and suffer impairments in their relationships, professional life, or self-care as a result. Major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and schizoaffective disorder must also be ruled out, along with the possibility that symptoms are caused by the use of addictive substances or another medical condition.

  • Psychotic symptoms
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Paranoia
  • Disorganized thoughts and speech
  • Strange movements
  • Inappropriate affect, such as laughter without a stimulus
  • Negative symptoms
  • Difficulty showing emotion
  • Difficulty functioning normally
  • Depression
  • Isolation or withdrawing oneself
  • Hostility and aggression
  • Social difficulties
  • Anxiety and phobias
  • Depersonalization
  • Cognitive symptoms
  • Trouble using information
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Memory problems
  • Sleeping problems

How Does Schizophrenia Interact with Addiction?

Unfortunately, people with schizophrenia will often turn to substance abuse as a method of coping with their symptoms, much like individuals suffering from other mental illnesses will do. Approximately half of the people diagnosed with schizophrenia abuse drugs or alcohol and people with schizophrenia are 3 times more likely to smoke than the general population.

Some types of drug abuse can also increase a person’s chances of developing schizophrenia. While substance abuse alone does not cause the disorder to manifest, it can be one of the reasons why someone who is already susceptible to schizophrenia eventually succumbs to it. Psychoactive drugs like marijuanacocainehallucinogens etc. can trigger symptoms of the disorder in those who are already likely to experience it. Research has uncovered an especially strong link between cannabis use in adolescence and the development of schizophrenia.

In other cases, substance abuse can create symptoms that are extremely similar to those of schizophrenia. For example, the abuse of stimulants like amphetamines, crystal meth, and cocaine may cause a full-blown psychosis that, over time, will subside if the person stops abusing drugs. However, some individuals may suffer permanent drug-induced psychosis or may also experience a recurrence of the symptoms years later and without warning.

How are Schizophrenia and Addiction Treated?

People who suffer from both drug abuse and schizophrenia often require long-term treatment in a rehab facility that offers 24-hour care. Also, it is extremely important that both disorders are treated simultaneously, as, if one goes untreated, it will be extremely likely to derail the progress made on the other disorder. Schizophrenia also requires specialized treatment from professionals with training and experience in this disorder, which means that not all substance use disorder treatment facilities will be able to serve individuals with this dual diagnosis.

Medications, such as antipsychotics, are often a large part of treatment for schizophrenia, along with traditional psychotherapy. Sometimes individuals experiencing severe psychotic symptoms at the beginning of addiction treatment will take these medications as well, albeit on a temporary basis. Often individuals will need to completely detox from substances before an accurate diagnosis of schizophrenia can be made.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is also very helpful to recovery in both disorders. CBT can teach patients better-coping mechanisms than substance abuse and to understand why they began abusing drugs in the first place. Learning to understand and view one’s disorders in a healthy light is also essential to recovery. Patients with schizophrenia need to come to accept their illness and their substance use disorder, learn new ways of coping with schizophrenia symptoms and work on setting goals to improve self-care and overall functioning.