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.
Differing Paths to the Same ResultThe number of people who have co-occurring disorders of schizophrenia and addiction is high. But the reasons these diseases go hand-in-hand can be dramatically different. Some people use drugs to help them deal with schizophrenia and “feel normal.” According to research by the National Institutes of Health, 75 percent of those studied who had a schizophrenia diagnosis were lifelong substance users.1 Many people who struggle with schizophrenia simply want to want “get high,” feel less depressed or feel relaxed. These are much the same reasons why anyone uses addictive drugs, which seems to indicate that some schizophrenic people come to drug use in much the same way those without the condition do.
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
- Confused thoughts or speech
- Trouble concentrating2
Addictive drugs can cause some of these same symptoms or make the underlying schizophrenia symptoms much worse. Using addictive drugs can also introduce an element of chaos into a person’s life, making it hard for the person to remember to keep appointments, take medications on time or otherwise complete all of the steps needed in order to keep schizophrenia under control. For example, research conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that people with schizophrenia and addictions are particularly sensitive to dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. This neurotransmitter is often enhanced with drugs of abuse in the part of the brain responsible for psychosis, but those with schizophrenia had reduced sensitivity to dopamine in the part of the brain associated with reward. This means patients with a schizophrenia diagnosis might need to take higher doses of drugs to feel rewarded by the brain, and more drugs increase psychotic symptoms.3
Medication ManagementPrograms that address an addiction as well as a mental illness are often referred to as co-occurring disorder treatment programs and they can be quite helpful. In many of these programs, clients are encouraged to use the power of their minds, instead of the power of medications, in order to gain control of both conditions. While this type of therapy can be helpful in dealing with some types of mental illness, research suggests that people with schizophrenia need a slightly different approach.
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.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.
Supportive TherapiesWhen 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
Finding Care for Schizophrenia and AddictionIt might be easy to assume that the addiction will disappear once a proper treatment plan for schizophrenia is found. Unfortunately, those who are addicted to drugs might face such severe challenges due to addiction they simply can’t control the schizophrenia. Their brains may call out for the drugs, and their bodies are somewhat helpless to resist. That’s why the right treatment is so important. If you have addictions and schizophrenia, we’d like to help you at Michael’s House. Our therapists integrate mental health treatment with addiction care and helping our clients develop life skills they can use in the fight against schizophrenia and addiction. We also provide family therapy and have an active alumni program once formal treatment has ended. Call our toll-free helpline now to find out more about our treatment programs. Our Admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to take your call.
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. 2 “What Are the Symptoms of Schizophrenia?” WebMD, WebMD. 17 Aug. 2017. 3 “Study finds combined dopamine dysfunction in drug-Addicted, schizophrenic patients.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIDA, 4 Oct. 2012. 4 “Schizophrenia 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.