Schizophrenia is a debilitating mental disorder that affects the way an individual thinks, acts and feels. Those with schizophrenia may hear voices in their head or see things that do not exist. They may display signs of paranoia, psychosis and irrational or delusional thinking. Schizophrenia is also linked to high rates of addiction.
Co-occurring disorders, when a mental health disorder and another health disorder such as a substance addiction occur concurrently, are common among those with schizophrenia. Approximately 50 percent of individuals with schizophrenia have a history of substance abuse or addiction, according to a variety of studies cited by the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Co-occurring substance use disorders can hinder the effectiveness of schizophrenia treatment and vice versa. Those with schizophrenia are also less likely to engage in treatment for their mental disorder when abusing drugs or alcohol.
Substance abuse also increases the risks of suicide, trauma and homelessness among those with schizophrenia, in addition to other health risks. The most commonly abused substances among individuals with schizophrenia are nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and psychedelic drugs.
Experts believe individuals with schizophrenia abuse substances to self-medicate and alleviate symptoms of the disorder.
33.7 percent of individuals with schizophrenia meet the criteria for alcoholism.
For people with co-occurring schizophrenia and substance addiction, specialized rehab programs treat the disorders together rather than independently, providing the best chance of recovery. Knowing the signs and symptoms of co-occurring schizophrenia and substance abuse is the first step to helping those with schizophrenia get healthy.
Though the exact cause of schizophrenia is not known, a number of factors are believed to play a key role in the disorder’s development.
The onset of schizophrenia symptoms is usually not recognizable until late adolescence or early adulthood. Schizophrenia diagnoses are rare among children and individuals 45 or older. Schizophrenia typically occurs in males, although a good portion of schizophrenia cases are female.
Schizophrenia symptoms can be extremely debilitating, hindering an individual’s ability to function normally.
Delusions from schizophrenia are strongly held false beliefs that are not based on reality or logic. Often, these delusions are characterized by paranoia and fear. Delusions are one of the most common symptoms of schizophrenia, as four out five individuals with schizophrenia experience them.
Schizophrenic hallucinations are characterized by seeing or hearing things that do not exist and believing they are real. Hallucinations can be through any of the senses; however, hearing voices is the most common hallucination.
Other hallucinations may include seeing people, objects or events that are not there, smelling odors that do not exist and feeling things such as an invisible finger when no one is present.
Disorganized thinking, usually manifested through disorganized speech, is a common side effect of schizophrenia. Disorganized thinking hinders schizophrenic individuals’ ability to effectively communicate.
They may give answers to questions completely unrelated to the topic or to questions never asked. They may also exhibit “word salad,” the term used to refer to combining words and thoughts in nonsensical fashion.
Symptoms of abnormal behavior can vary and may be hard to comprehend or recognize. Schizophrenic behavioral symptoms can range from acting irregularly childish to unpredictably agitated. Individuals exhibiting these symptoms may resist instructions, display odd or inappropriate posture or movements, fail to respond to verbal communication and exhibit other odd or irregular behaviors.
Negative schizophrenia symptoms hinder the ability to function normally and rationally. They are often characterized by isolation and social withdrawal.
Discerning schizophrenia symptoms in teenagers can be difficult, as many symptoms are often associated with normal teen behaviors. Symptoms that could indicate schizophrenia or the potential development of schizophrenia include withdrawing from friends and family, poorer school performance, trouble sleeping, agitation, depression and a lack of motivation. Additionally, teens are less likely to exhibit delusion symptoms but are more likely to experience visual hallucinations.
Substance abuse is the most common co-occurring disorder among people with schizophrenia. It is generally believed that individuals with schizophrenia use substances as self-medication to alleviate schizophrenic symptoms. The most commonly abused substances among those with schizophrenia are nicotine, alcohol, cannabis and cocaine, respectively.
Schizophrenic individuals who abuse substances increase their likelihood of many negative consequences. They are more likely to relapse into psychosis, neglect their antipsychotic medications and other medical treatments, commit acts of violence and die by suicide.
They are also more vulnerable to injury and illness, poorer psychosis treatment outcomes and higher rates of inpatient and emergency services. Additionally, incarceration rates among those with co-occurring schizophrenia and substance use disorders are high.
Half of those with schizophrenia develop a substance use disorder in their lifetime.
Long-term substance abuse among those with schizophrenia can result in vast deterioration in functioning. Cannabis and alcohol abuse among those with schizophrenia is linked to psychotic relapse. Those with co-occurring substance abuse and schizophrenia also experience more frequent auditory hallucinations and paranoid delusions.
Overall, substance abuse among those with schizophrenia is linked to immense social, health and legal complications or consequences that can make it nearly impossible to live a healthy and productive life.
While there is no absolute way to prevent schizophrenia, early treatment and recognition of symptoms can help control the development of the disorder and its severity, thus reducing the likelihood of developing a substance use disorder as well.
Compared to the general population, the odds of having a substance abuse diagnosis were found to be 4.6 times higher for people with schizophrenia.
Treatment programs for schizophrenia can help prevent relapse and the worsening of schizophrenia symptoms, as well as co-occurring disorders such as substance abuse. Additionally, eliminating schizophrenia risk factors can also prevent substance abuse.
Reducing stressors for individuals with schizophrenia can prevent negative symptoms, relapse and substance use. According to a study by researchers at Emory University, stressors increase substance use and can exacerbate schizophrenia symptoms. Implementing prevention techniques that eliminate stress among those with schizophrenia may also reduce substance addictions in this population.
Treatment for co-occurring schizophrenia and substance use disorder is most effective when it is integrated to manage the disorders together rather than independently. Co-occurring disorder treatment programs give individuals the greatest chance of recovery.
Many co-occurring disorder programs use a technique called behavioral treatment for substance abuse in serious and persistent mental illness (BTSAS) to reduce substance abuse in those with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.
If you or someone you know has schizophrenia, or you recognize schizophrenic symptoms in your own or another’s behavior, there are options to help prevent the disorder from worsening and prevent the development of a substance abuse disorder. The earlier a schizophrenic individual receives treatment, the better chance that person has to reach recovery.
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