Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder in which people don’t interpret reality correctly.  It is defined as a group of severe neurological diseases that changes a person’s sense of reality.  Individuals who suffer from this order may also experience a combination of hallucinations, delusions, and disorderly thinking and behavior that can hinder day to day activities.  This condition can be extremely disabling. Schizophrenia can be very frightening for the individual and their loved ones because it disrupts their cognitive functions, behaviors, and ability to communicate; leaving them impaired in relationships, social situations, and on the job.

Schizophrenia can even lead to substance abuse.  Symptoms of drug abuse can also mimic signs of schizophrenia, sometimes people struggling with this mental health disorder are mistaken for drug addicts.  Battling a mental health condition, like schizophrenia, and a substance abuse problem at the same is known as dual-diagnosis or a co-occurring disorder. At the Sana Lake Recovery Center, our healthcare professionals can treat your schizophrenia and substance abuse problem.

Symptoms of Schizophrenia

Signs of this mental health condition can start to appear as early as after puberty.  Majority of people are diagnosed in their late teens to early 30s. As a result of the first signs of this disease, and the tumultuous symptoms, the social impact of this disorder is severe.

Schizophrenia can affect all aspects of an individual’s mind and personality.  Psychosis, experiences that contradict with the reality that is experienced by others, is a primary warning sign.  One of the most common forms of this condition that people are most familiar with is paranoid schizophrenia. Someone with this disorder has delusional beliefs about being persecuted, threatened, or controlled by others, or inhuman forces.  People with this particular type of schizophrenia often obsess over odd conspiracy theories, fear of being hunted, claim to hear voices that order them to do harmful things to themselves or others. They can become isolated, irritable, and fearful of others.

Symptoms are categorized according to how they affect the sensory experience, thoughts, and learning, or social interaction and communication: 

  • Sensory Symptoms – Visual or auditory hallucinations
  • Cognitive Symptoms – Not able to comprehend or use language in an understandable way; unorganized thinking, struggling to learn in conventional methods, false beliefs about grand achievements or persecution
  • Behavioral Symptoms– Self-isolation and social withdrawal; lack of personal hygiene; fear of eating or drinking; physical interaction with others; pressured speech; no motivation; no interests in working or previous activities; not able to relate to others in socially acceptable ways; wild and unpredictable behavior; lack of impulse control 
  • Emotional Symptoms– Loss of emotional affect; flat facial expression; emotional responses that don’t make sense; not able to empathize with others, severe mood changes 

Some of the early signs can include:

  • Bizarre changes in speech or handwriting
  • Sudden loss of interest in favorite activities or friendships
  • Lack of personal hygiene and grooming
  • Focusing on negative or destructive thoughts
  • Isolation
  • Loss of ability to control impulses
  • Not being aware of one’s environment (surrounding world)
  • A flat facial expression
  • Failure to finish projects or meet commitments
  • Inability to focus on one topic for an extended period

Schizophrenia and Substance Abuse

The majority of researchers don’t believe that substance abuse causes schizophrenia, but if you do have schizophrenia, then you are more likely to develop a substance or alcohol addiction than the general population.

Drugs like marijuana and stimulants such as amphetamines or cocaine can worsen the symptoms of schizophrenia when battling a co-occurring disorder.  Research has also discovered a link between marijuana and symptoms of schizophrenia.

As previously mentioned, alcohol or drug addiction symptoms can imitate and hide the signs of schizophrenia.  Some of the typical traits between schizophrenia and substance abuse can include:

  • Unpredictable mood swings
  • Social Withdrawal
  • Delusional beliefs about oneself and others
  • Auditory or visual hallucinations
  • Scattered thoughts
  • Quick, pressured speech
  • Inappropriate emotional affects or responses
  • Poor choices and risky behavior
  • Not able to concentrate

Smoking is also linked to schizophrenia.  One of the most common forms of substance abuse in people with schizophrenia is nicotine.  Studies have shown that sufferers are three times more likely to get addicted than the general population.  The relationship between this mental health condition and smoking is complicated and not fully understood, leading researchers to explore whether or not their need for nicotine is biological.  Smoking comes with multiple health hazards on its own, but can also cause antipsychotic drugs to be less effective. It can also be more challenging to quit smoking if you also have schizophrenia.  The effects of nicotine withdrawal can heighten psychotic symptoms, and careful strategies such as nicotine replacement methods may be easier.   

People who abuse drugs or alcohol are not as likely to follow a treatment program; therefore, hindering their path to recovery.

Getting Treatment

Co-occurring substance abuse disorders can halt the effects of treatment for schizophrenia and vice versa.  People with this disorder typically don’t seek treatment when they are addicted to drugs or alcohol. The symptoms of schizophrenia are severe and make it hard to cope, so sufferers are at risk of using drugs or alcohol to self-medicate and escape the effects of this disorder.  Substance abuse can also increase the risk of suicidal thoughts, trauma, and homelessness in individuals with schizophrenia. 

Being homeless, isolated, and fearful of others can prevent a person from seeking the treatment that they need.  Both conditions in a co-occurring disorder should be addressed when going through treatment. Treating one condition and not the other is not effective when it comes to a successful long-term recovery.

If you or your loved one would like to seek treatment for schizophrenia and substance abuse, take the first step today by speaking with one of our representatives at (636) 707-2097. You can also read more about our treatment options for co-occurring disorders and learn about our rehabilitation center on our website.

Article Reviewed by David Sherman, MD

David Sherman, MDDavid Sherman, MD is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (FASAM) and board certified in Addiction Medicine with the American Board of Preventive Medicine. He is a native Missourian and graduated medical school at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine. Dr. Sherman completed a two-year fellowship in Addiction Medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He leads a highly trained staff of master level certified addiction professionals. Men and women from all over Missouri and the United States come to Sana Lake Recovery Center to get the care they need and deserve.