Schizophrenia and Addiction: Is there a Connection?

There are about 2 million adults in the United States that suffer from schizophrenia. That works out to be about 1% of all people over the age of 18 in our country. Schizophrenia is a very serious psychiatric illness that causes people to have difficulty responding appropriately in social situations, makes it difficult for them to maintain solid interpersonal relationships, and can make it hard for them to contribute to society in healthy ways. The symptoms of schizophrenia can become so severe that managing work or school is impossible.

You may be surprised to learn that there is a way to treat both conditions at the same time, and it’s possible that this idea goes against everything you’ve always thought to be true about treatment.

Schizophrenia and Addiction Information

Psychiatric illnesses like schizophrenia often go hand in hand with addictions to either drugs or alcohol, or both. There are a lot of reasons for this connection. Perhaps you’ve been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and you’re concerned about how you can also recover from your addiction because of this diagnosis. Or, it’s possible that you’ve never been formally diagnosed with schizophrenia, but you believe you have a lot of the symptoms of it. Either way, it may be helpful for you to learn as much as you can about this psychiatric illness and how it coincides with addiction. You may be surprised to learn that there is a way to treat both conditions at the same time, and it’s possible that this idea goes against everything you’ve always thought to be true about treatment.

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What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a chronic brain disorder that can become very debilitating when it is not treated properly. A key indicator of schizophrenia is that those who suffer from it have a very hard time distinguishing between reality and the imaginary. Some experts say that it’s almost as though they live in a different world all their own. Because of their condition, being appropriate in social situations is quite challenging.

The severity of schizophrenia varies from person to person. However, it does heavily influence the way someone thinks, behaves and feels. Schizophrenia is not as common as other types of mental health conditions, but those who have it find it to be a very disabling condition. People who have schizophrenia usually begin showing signs of it between the ages of 16 and 30; although there have been children who were diagnosed with schizophrenia as well.

Because of the severity of schizophrenia, it’s not surprising that so many people turn to addictions to get some relief from their symptoms.

This condition can be incredibly overwhelming for the person who is suffering. Yet, it may also carry a bit of shame with it as well. While it might seem hard to believe, there are those who will continue throughout their entire lives without getting a formal diagnosis for schizophrenia, and they will only self-medicate their symptoms away by using drugs and alcohol. This is such a dangerous way to live, and fortunately, there is a better way.

How Does Someone Become Schizophrenic?

Scientists and researchers aren’t really sure what exactly causes schizophrenia to occur. However, they do know that there are some risk factors that make a diagnosis of schizophrenia much more likely in some people. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the following play a role:

Genes – Researchers do know that schizophrenia runs in families. However, the fact remains that there have been singular diagnoses of schizophrenia made that did not have a genetic history of it, or any other mental health issue, for that matter. Still, when someone has schizophrenia, the probability of someone else in the family being diagnosed with it is much greater. 

Environment – There are several environmental factors that may contribute to a diagnosis of schizophrenia. For example, if someone has been exposed to certain viruses, if someone was malnourished prior to being born, or if there were significant problems during birth, these can all contribute. 

Brain chemistry – When there is an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain, this can contribute to instances of schizophrenia. Dopamine and glutamate are two of the chemicals that help brain cells communicate with each other, and when these levels are off, schizophrenia can result. 

If there are problems with brain development before birth, as the child moves into puberty, faulty connections can develop as the brain goes through rapid changes. These faulty connections can lead to psychotic symptoms and the eventual development of schizophrenia.

What Effects Can Schizophrenia Have on the Body and Mind?

There aren’t any reported physical effects of schizophrenia on the body. The effects all seem to be mental in nature. Someone with schizophrenia will have a very hard time organizing their thoughts, and they’re often not able to make logical connections. They usually feel as though their minds are racing from one unrelated thought to another. They can also experience what experts refer to as “thought withdrawal.” This occurs when it seems like their thoughts have been removed from their minds. It is also called thought blocking, and it happens when their thoughts become interrupted for one reason or another. 

As far as behaviors go, schizophrenia has a profound effect on them. Sometimes people who have schizophrenia have a difficult time making sense when they talk. They may even make up words that sound perfectly fine to them, but aren’t actual words at all. People with schizophrenia may have bouts of agitation, and they can also have times when their affects are just flat, with no expression whatsoever. It’s not surprising that these individuals often struggle to keep their homes clean, or take care of themselves. They may engage in repeating behaviors, such as pacing back and forth. They are generally not violent at all. 

As you can see, life is quite challenging for someone who has schizophrenia. It can be very difficult to convince someone who has this psychiatric condition to get help because they feel as though everything is fine, according to their reality.

What are the Signs that You May Have Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia can be a difficult condition to diagnose because of the amount of diagnostic criteria that need to be met. There are different classifications for symptoms of schizophrenia, and they fall into three different categories – positive, negative and cognitive.

The question is, what about relapse rates? Are these numbers something to be concerned about? The numbers are actually comparable with those who relapse because of other diseases. For example, Type I diabetics will often have a 30-50% relapse rate. Those who have been diagnosed with hypertension demonstrate a 50-70% relapse rate. The same relapse rate applies to people with asthma. For those who suffer from addiction, their relapse rate is generally between 40 and 60%. 

The positive symptoms of schizophrenia include: 

  • Losing touch with some aspects of reality
  • Experiencing chronic hallucinations
  • Experiencing chronic delusions
  • Having a dysfunctional way of thinking
  • Displaying agitated body movements 

The negative symptoms of schizophrenia include: 

  • Having difficulty with emotions
  • Having difficulty controlling behaviors
  • Expressing no emotions
  • Being unable to find joy in daily life
  • Having trouble starting activities
  • Having trouble with continuing activities
  • A reduction in speaking 

The cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia vary from person to person.

For some, these symptoms are very subtle, and for others, they’re more severe. These symptoms can include trouble with making decisions, problems with understanding information, a short attention span, and difficulty utilizing information right after it’s learned. 

Do any of these symptoms sound familiar to you? Maybe you can recognize some of them within yourself, or perhaps you know someone who may have schizophrenia, and they seem to fit that individual. Either way, if several of these symptoms are recognizable, a diagnosis of schizophrenia is very likely.

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How are Addiction and Schizophrenia Linked with Each Other?

The symptoms of schizophrenia can range from being mild to being quite severe. Either way, the symptoms are difficult to contend with, which is why people will generally gravitate toward using substances as a way to self-medicate. Drugs and alcohol can temporarily relieve some of the symptoms that are most common with schizophrenia. However, the perceived benefits of using drugs or alcohol are definitely only short-lived.

As someone continues to use drugs or alcohol, a dependence or addiction develops, and this is practically impossible for them to stop on their own. Having schizophrenia not only makes them more susceptible to addiction, but because of the chronic nature of their illness they continue self-medicating.

Also, it’s important to note that chemical imbalances that are present in someone who has schizophrenia. Using drugs or alcohol can counteract these imbalances for a period of time. This is another reason why people who have this mental health condition are much more likely to use drugs or alcohol. The long-term effects of continuing in an addiction cannot be ignored, and substances only serve to make schizophrenia symptoms worse in the long run.

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Getting Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Schizophrenia and Addiction

Dual diagnosis treatment is the best way to treat co-occurring disorders such as schizophrenia and addiction. Treating them separately has been shown to be problematic because of how treatment methods can clash with each other. 

In patients who have schizophrenia, managing their medications is a crucial part of treatment for them. However, many addiction treatment programs stress that patients should not be on medications because of the potential for addiction. It’s important to combine treatment methods for those with schizophrenia because taking away their medications makes it so much easier for them to relapse back into addiction as a way to self-medicate. Actually, many patients who have only gotten separate treatments do exactly that. 

Dual diagnosis treatment provides a multitude of benefits for those with schizophrenia and addiction, including: 

  • Ensuring that they have received a proper diagnosis
  • Making sure that the right treatment plan is in place
  • Providing therapy that will help to address the source of the addiction
  • Providing family therapy to educate the family and facilitate the rebuilding of relationships
  • Providing group therapy, which has shown to be instrumental in recovery
  • Ensuring that adequate follow-up care is in place 

If you’re suffering from these co-occurring disorders, there is a better way for you to get the help you need, and dual diagnosis treatment is the answer.

Choosing Northpoint Recovery for Your Dual Diagnosis Treatment

It can be a confusing time when you’re suffering from both a mental illness like schizophrenia and an addiction. You might not know where you can turn for help, or you might be told that you have to settle for being treated for one condition before you can be treated for another. At one point in time, this was the way treatment was conducted. In fact, most of the time, people were treated for their addictions before they were treated for any mental health issues they were experiencing, and this only led to confusing treatments. It also meant that the sources of addictions were not being adequately addressed, and it was clear that something needed to change.

Dual diagnosis treatment offers you the type of help you need for schizophrenia and addiction, and here at Northpoint Recovery, treatment for co-occurring disorders is something we specialize in. We know how difficult it can be to admit that you have a problem with addiction, but it’s even harder when you are also suffering from schizophrenia. Getting treatment for both simultaneously has been shown to produce much better success rates, and that is what we want to do for you. 

If you’d like to learn more about dual diagnosis treatment at Northpoint Recovery, or if you’re ready to get started with this type of treatment for yourself, please contact us today.