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Addiction and schizophrenia are both complex mental health disorders that can have a significant impact on an individual’s life. While they are distinct conditions, there is a growing body of research that suggests a relationship between the two. Understanding this relationship is crucial for providing effective treatment and support for individuals who may be experiencing both addiction and schizophrenia simultaneously.

This post explores the relationship between addiction and schizophrenia, examining how these two disorders can interact and influence one another. By understanding the connection between addiction and schizophrenia, healthcare professionals can better address the unique needs of individuals who are living with both conditions.

What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. People with schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality, which can be distressing for them and for their family and friends. The symptoms of schizophrenia can make it difficult to participate in usual, everyday activities and include:

Psychosis refers to a set of symptoms characterized by a loss of touch with reality due to a disruption in the way that the brain processes information. When someone experiences a psychotic episode, the person’s thoughts and perceptions are disturbed, and the individual may have difficulty understanding what is real and what is not.

Delusions are fixed false beliefs held despite clear or reasonable evidence that they are not true. Persecutory (or paranoid) delusions, when a person believes they are being harmed or harassed by another person or group, are the most common.

Hallucinations are the experience of hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, or feeling things that are not there. They are vivid and clear with an impression similar to normal perceptions. Auditory hallucinations, or “hearing voices,” are the most common in schizophrenia and related psychotic disorders.

Disorganized thinking and speech refer to thoughts and speech that are jumbled or do not make sense. For example, the person may switch from one topic to another or respond with an unrelated topic in conversation. The symptoms are severe enough to cause substantial problems with normal communication.

Disorganized or abnormal motor behavior are movements that can range from childlike silliness to unpredictable agitation or can manifest as repeated movements without purpose. When the behavior is severe, it can cause problems in the performance of activities of daily life. It includes catatonia, when a person appears as if in a daze with little movement or response to the surrounding environment.

Co-occurrence of Addiction and Schizophrenia

Studies have shown that individuals with schizophrenia are at a higher risk of developing substance use disorders, such as alcohol or drug addiction. This could be due to various factors, including self-medication to alleviate symptoms of schizophrenia, social isolation, or genetic predisposition. For example, a person experiencing hallucinations or delusions may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with their symptoms.

Impact of Addiction on Schizophrenia

Addiction can exacerbate symptoms of schizophrenia and make it more challenging to manage the disorder effectively. Substance abuse can interfere with medication adherence, worsen cognitive functioning, and increase the risk of relapse. For instance, someone with schizophrenia who is addicted to drugs may experience more severe psychotic episodes or have difficulty engaging in therapy or other treatment interventions.

Impact of Schizophrenia on Addiction

Conversely, schizophrenia can also have a significant impact on addiction. Individuals with schizophrenia may have difficulty recognizing and addressing their substance use problems due to cognitive impairments or disorganized thinking. This can make it harder for them to seek help for their addiction and increase the risk of substance-related harm. For example, someone with schizophrenia may struggle to follow a treatment plan for their addiction due to the symptoms of their mental health condition.

Treating Schizophrenia and Addiction

Schizophrenia requires lifelong treatment, even when symptoms have subsided. Treatment with medications and psychosocial therapy can help manage the condition. In some cases, hospitalization may be needed. A psychiatrist experienced in treating schizophrenia usually guides treatment. The treatment team also may include a psychologist, social worker, psychiatric nurse and possibly a case manager to coordinate care. The full-team approach is available in programs like TRUE with expertise in schizophrenia treatment.

Medications are the cornerstone of schizophrenia treatment, and antipsychotic medications are the most commonly prescribed drugs. They’re thought to control symptoms by affecting the brain neurotransmitter dopamine. The goal of treatment with antipsychotic medications is to effectively manage signs and symptoms at the lowest possible dose. The psychiatrist may try different drugs, different doses or combinations over time to achieve the desired result. Other medications also may help, such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs. It can take several weeks to notice an improvement in symptoms.

At TRUE Addiction and Behavioral Health treatments for schizophrenia focus on helping people manage their symptoms, improve day-to-day functioning, and preparing people to achieve personal life goals, such as completing education, pursuing a career, and having fulfilling relationships. Treating the symptoms of Schizophrenia through medication and therapies come first so that an individual can be stabilized. Stabilization is followed by the regular course of addiction treatment through therapies including CBT, DBT, ACT. Commonly people will attend group therapy, individual therapy and ancillary activities like art and music therapy.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, the relationship between addiction and schizophrenia is complex and multifaceted. Individuals who are living with both disorders face unique challenges that require a comprehensive and integrated approach to treatment. By addressing both addiction and schizophrenia simultaneously, programs like TRUE can provide more effective care and support for these individuals, helping them to improve their quality of life and overall well-being.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction and schizophrenia, take comfort in knowing that help is available. Give TRUE Addiction and Behavioral Health a call today and get started on the path of long-term successful recovery. We are here to help.