Opiate Addiction in Individuals Struggling with Schizophrenia

schizophrenia and opiates

The number of individuals who have co-occurring disorders of schizophrenia and addiction is high. However, the exact reasoning behind substance use will vary based on the person. Some people may begin using opiates to help them deal with symptoms of schizophrenia. In other cases, an individual may have been prescribed opiates which then led to misuse. 

According to research by the National Institutes of Health, 75 percent of those studied who had a schizophrenia diagnosis were lifelong substance users. Although these people were not all addicted to opiates, these statistics reveal an unfortunate truth. We must help those struggling with schizophrenia and substance use.

Getting a Better Understanding: What Are Opiates?

Opiates are a narcotic substance that acts as a depressant on the central nervous system (CNS). Opiates are derived from opium, which can be processed naturally from poppy plants or extracted from semi-synthetic alkaloids. Examples of opiates include:

  • Morphine (Kadian, Avinza)
  • Codeine
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet)
  • Heroin

Prescription opiates are often much more dangerous than people initially realize. Since they can be prescribed, it’s natural to assume that they’re safe to take. However, these highly addictive substances can be easily misused and serve as a gateway substance to other drugs.

While all opiates are opioids, not all opioids are opiates. Many of us are aware of the opioid epidemic sweeping our country. In 2017, opioid use resulted in 63,082 deaths. 

  • 47,600 by opioids
  • 15,482 by heroin

We must help those in need by addressing opiate use and schizophrenia. Opiates may provide a temporary fix, but the long-term pain associated with misuse is nowhere near worth it.  

How Do I Know If I Have An Opiate Addiction?

Opiate addiction is a complex disease that affects people in highly individualized ways. Substance use affects the individual from the inside out. If left unaddressed, it can hurt the individual’s physical and mental health, relationships and other responsibilities such as work. Opiate addiction can be recognized by a variety of factors.

The common signs of opiate addiction include building up a tolerance, using opiates to avoid withdrawal symptoms, and the inability to stop using. Opiates can alter brain chemistry which results in changes to brain functioning. If you’re struggling with opiate addiction, you may find yourself struggling with thinking clearly, exercising good judgment, controlling behavior and feeling normal. 

If you think that you’re struggling with an opiate addiction, you can look out for signs such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Lessened libido
  • Intense cravings
  • New financial problems
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Ongoing flu-like symptoms
  • Poor hygiene and self-care
  • Stealing from family, friends, or businesses to maintain substance use

Let’s Define Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a chronic brain disorder that includes symptoms such as delusions, hallucinations, problems with thinking and concentration, and lack of motivation. Fortunately, with quality treatment, most symptoms of schizophrenia will significantly improve.

The complexity of schizophrenia may help explain why there are misconceptions about the disorder. Schizophrenia does not fall into the category of split personality or multiple-personality. Individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia are not dangerous or violent. Recovering individuals with schizophrenia live with family, in group homes or on their own.

This is why dual diagnosis treatment is crucial. Treating opiate addiction while ignoring the presence of a mental health disorder will only cause future discomfort and pain. Using evidence-based methods and personalized treatment, the effects of schizophrenia and opiate use can simultaneously improve.

Symptoms of Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia caused a range of problems with thinking (cognition), behavior and emotions. Recognizing the symptoms of schizophrenia can help you or a loved one receive the help you deserve. Although each individual is different, some general symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • Delusions: Delusions are false beliefs that are not based in reality. For instance, you think that you’re being harmed or harassed; certain gestures or comments are directed at you; you have exceptional ability or fame; another person is in love with you; or a major catastrophe is about to occur. 
  • Hallucinations: These can be described as seeing or hearing things that don’t exist. For an individual with schizophrenia, these hallucinations seem like a normal experience. Hallucinations can be in any of the senses, but hearing voices is typically the most common.
  • Exceptionally disorganized or abnormal motor behavior: This can be noticed by examining any childlike silliness to unpredictable agitation that occurs. Behavior isn’t centered around a goal, so it’s difficult to complete tasks. Behavior can include resistance to instructions, inappropriate or bizarre posture, as well as lacking having any kind of response. 
  • Negative symptoms: Negative symptoms can be explained by having reduced or lack of ability to function normally. For example, hygiene may be neglected. In other cases, the individual may appear to lack emotion. This can be shown by little to no eye contact, facial expressions that remain the same, as well as monotone speech.

How Does Schizophrenia Relate to Opiate Addiction?

As mentioned above, opiates are highly addictive substances derived from the poppy plant such as heroin, morphine, and codeine. These substances produce a temporary feeling of well-being and euphoria. Opiate use on its own will not cause schizophrenia. However, one of the symptoms of misusing certain opiates is psychosis. Psychosis is a state that can be compared to schizophrenia, as it causes delusions and hallucinations.

Individuals that struggle with schizophrenia may turn to substances like alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, and opiates to find solace from the pain of the disorder. Although opiate use may temporarily lessen the pain, they end up worsening the condition in the long run. 

Opiates are also extremely addictive. The more frequently you use, the higher your tolerance will build. This is one of the many severe side effects of opiate use. Tolerance is defined as a person’s diminished response to a substance that is the result of repeated use. In other words, the dosage will grow over time to achieve the same effect. 

Individuals struggling with opiate use and schizophrenia become at risk for severe side effects such as respiratory depression, decreased heart rate or even fatal overdose. Mental symptoms of opiate withdrawal may include, but are not limited to:

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Depression
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis

These side effects worsen the symptoms of schizophrenia. Opiates are not an effective way to treat schizophrenia or any mental health disorder for that matter. Building a tolerance to opiates can quickly worsen symptoms of schizophrenia. 

If you or a loved one is struggling with schizophrenia and opiate use, you may be given a dual diagnosis. A dual diagnosis, also referred to as co-occurring disorders, is the presence of addiction and a mental health disorder. Dual diagnosis treatment ensures to treat both disorders for a successful recovery. 

Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Schizophrenia and Opiate Use: Mental Health is a Priority

Dual diagnosis treatment for opiate use and schizophrenia focuses on treating any mental health conditions in addition to addiction. It’ll include evidence-based therapies, support groups, medical care, and much more. It is vital to work through any underlying mental and emotional roots to ensure long-term sobriety for the recovering individual.

Therapy is generally the biggest asset of a dual diagnosis treatment plan. Evidence-based therapies include, but are not limited to:

  • Dialectic behavioral therapy, which has the goal of reducing self-harming behaviors that recovering individuals experience when working through addiction and mental health concerns.
  • Integrated group therapy, which is centered around treating symptoms of all disorders present with the support and encouragement of a group setting.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy, the goal of CBT is to replace toxic beliefs and behaviors with healthy thinking and behavioral patterns that ensure long-term recovery success.
  • Individual psychotherapy, this type of therapy also addresses behaviors related to addiction and will provide the recovering individuals with healthy coping tools.

Dual diagnosis treatment programs for opiate use and schizophrenia can also incorporate medication if necessary. Medicines will vary according to the unique individual and their needs. Some of the more typically used medications include lithium and anticonvulsants (mood stabilizers), selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and other antidepressants, and anti-anxiety drugs such as buspirone (BuSpar).

Seek Help With Sana Lake Recovery Center Today

Opiate use and schizophrenia can be worked through using healthy coping mechanisms. With the right treatment and high-quality resources, addiction recovery becomes possible. Our dual diagnosis treatment will also focus on alleviating a lot of the pain about schizophrenia. 

Our licensed care specialists at Sana Lake Recovery Center can help you navigate the ins and outs of a dual diagnosis treatment program. You can contact us at Sana Lake Recovery Center here. Our dedicated team can help you find the drug and alcohol treatment resources you need to work through schizophrenia and opiate use. 

References:

https://www.psychemedics.com/opiates/

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/schizophrenia/symptoms-causes/syc-20354443

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/schizophrenia/what-is-schizophrenia

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5353236/

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/schizophrenia/index.shtml

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.