Schizophrenia is a chronic condition that causes severe disruptions in a person’s health, happiness and peace of mind. The symptoms of schizophrenia can begin at almost any age, but it typically mental illness appears during adolescence, when people are just learning how to function in the adult world. With the right treatment, those who struggle with schizophrenia can keep the symptoms under control, but the condition can never truly be cured.
Living with this type of chronic condition can be difficult, and some people rebel against the schizophrenia label. Often patients refuse to participate in therapy and relapse into poor habits and life choices as a result. Addictive drugs can make the process much worse, exacerbating symptoms and counteracting medications used to control the disease. While schizophrenia and addiction can go hand in hand, recovery from addiction while managing the mental illness is possible.
On the other hand, some drugs of abuse that cause changes in brain chemistry. This can increase the risk of addiction in people with a family history of schizophrenia and can cause schizophrenia to appear for the very first time. Regardless of which came first, schizophrenia or addiction, when the conditions are co-occurring they make all symptoms worse. For example, people with schizophrenia may experience:
  • Visual disturbances
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Confused thoughts or speech
  • Trouble concentrating2
Since schizophrenia is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, medications prescribed by consulting physicians can be effective in alleviating symptoms. There are a variety of different medications that can be used, and often patients and their doctors must go through a period of experimentation until they find a combination that provides good control and reduced side effects, but the National Institute on Mental Health reports that most people feel significantly better within six weeks of starting treatment.4 In most cases, people must take medications to control schizophrenia for the rest of their lives.

Supportive Therapies

When symptoms of paranoia or psychosis have subsided, therapy can help schizophrenic patients to learn more about their disease and what they must do to keep it under control. People in therapy might be encouraged to:
  • Take medications as directed by consulting physicians
  • Build communication skills
  • Reduce day-to-day stress and tension
  • Refuse to relapse to drug use
  • Set and achieve goals
These are all vital steps that can help those with schizophrenia develop healthy, balanced lives free from substance use and abuse. Family therapy can also play an important role in a program for addiction and schizophrenia. Studies suggest that 50 to 60 percent of people with schizophrenia who live in high-stress families tend to display schizophrenia symptoms one year after they’ve left the hospital.5 Therapy can help families process this dysfunction and reduce stress levels. Family therapy also allows the entire group to learn more about addiction and mental illness develop steps they can put in place if the person’s symptoms of either condition seem to reappear. These cohesive plans can help families avoid disaster. Some people with schizophrenia also need extensive help in order to help them integrate into the community. These people may need assistance in finding housing, completing an education or learning how to apply for a job. Intensive care involving a team of professionals and a case manager can help address these issues so the person can develop a more sustainable way of living.

1 ULUDAĞ, Yasemin TEKİN, and Gülcan GÜLEÇ. Prevalance of Substance Abuse in Patients Diagnosed with Schizophrenia. Turkish Neuropsychiatric Society, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Mar. 2016. 2What Are the Symptoms of Schizophrenia?WebMD, WebMD. 17 Aug. 2017. 3Study finds combined dopamine dysfunction in drug-Addicted, schizophrenic patients.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIDA, 4 Oct. 2012. 4Schizophrenia Booklet.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed 24 Feb. 2018. 5 “Schizophrenia Treatment.” Psych Central. 9 Oct. 2017.