Alcoholism and drug addiction can destroy an otherwise enjoyable and successful life. The psychological and physical consequences of prolonged substance abuse can be devastating. However, addiction is a disease where the afflicted will try to convince themselves that there isn’t a problem.

Self-medication is invariably but a symptom of deeper, often more severe issues. Mental health issues can present challenging hurdles to overcome on the pathway to a successful recovery. A combination of schizophrenia and substance use disorder can be one of the most challenging challenges to overcome. Let’s look at why schizophrenia and substance use make up for a difficult dual diagnosis.

How Does Substance Abuse Affect Schizophrenia?

Both symptoms of schizophrenia and substance use are characterized by levels of paranoia, hallucinations, and delusions. People with schizophrenia may experience any combination of these ailments in varying degrees of seriousness depending on genetics and environmental factors.

The relationship between people with schizophrenia and substance abuse has garnered increasing interest from mental health professionals. It’s not ironic that many of the inherent behavioral characteristics of both schizophrenia and substance addiction can be eerily similar.

The same phenomenon occurs in someone who abuses drugs and alcohol. Alcohol and drug use can trigger drug-induced psychosis—a number of the symptoms from a drug-induced psychosis mirror schizophrenia. Now, imagine the seriousness of the two combined.

Why is Substance Abuse More Dangerous for People Living With Schizophrenia?

Abusing drugs and alcohol can be dangerous for a person with moderate mental health concerns. For people with schizophrenia, substance abuse can become life-threatening. The disease of addiction has the ability to create many of the same symptoms in individuals who do not have schizophrenia.

When people with schizophrenia abuse substances, there can be a dangerous magnification of the effects. Drug and alcohol users can have chemically-induced schizophrenia. Repeated occurrences of drug-induced psychosis can trigger schizophrenia. Individuals who have schizophrenia and abuse drugs or alcohol are highly susceptible to an increased level of impairment. Schizophrenia and addiction are associated with a more intense psychosis.

Frequently, this dangerous combination of schizophrenia and a substance use disorder result in emergency room visits. Extensive studies have shown strong connections between existing mental illness and substance use disorders.

Research numbers indicate potentially half of the individuals with documented schizophrenia abused a substance or multiple substances prior to being diagnosed with schizophrenia. With a proclivity to abuse alcohol and drugs, how does substance abuse affect schizophrenia?

Do Schizophrenics Have Higher Rates of Substance Abuse?

People with schizophrenia are at a higher risk for alcoholism and drug addiction. Not only are schizophrenia and a substance use disorder challenging on their own, but schizophrenia and substance use are common co-occurring disorders.

Instead of receiving professional help for their schizophrenia, many individuals attempt to self-medicate. But this can be extremely dangerous. The combination of drugs and alcohol with any mental illness only compounds both. In some cases, using substances can increase the risk of further developing schizophrenia symptoms such as disorganized speech.

Can Alcohol and Drug Use Cause Schizophrenia?

An individual who would not even meet the diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia can develop schizophrenic tendencies after prolonged drug and alcohol abuse. People with schizophrenia and self-medication issues can quickly find themselves in a life-threatening situation.

When this situation arises, it is of utmost importance for individuals to receive progressional treatment. Thankfully, help for patients with schizophrenia and addiction issues is available. It can be helpful to know some options for help for those individuals who have schizophrenia and a substance use disorder.

Help for Schizophrenia and Substance Abuse

There are individual programs for both schizophrenia and substance abuse. However, a person who has a dual diagnosis should seek a treatment program specializing in treatment for psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia and addiction. Here are some essential treatment phases and options to consider.

Medical Detox

Prolonged alcohol and drug abuse will produce varying degrees of dependence. The period required to reduce the medical risks safely varies by length of the substance use and the type of substance. There is rarely a situation that will justify attempting to detox from drugs or alcohol at home. For this reason, treatment frequently begins with a medically supervised period of detox

Here are four essential benefits of supervised medical detox:

  • Medical Safety – The detox facility is staffed by medical professionals. As the individual experiences withdrawal symptoms, these trained professionals will be ready to provide medical assistance.
  • Constant Supervision – The entire detox process is under the supervision of trained professionals. This can be critical for individuals with co-occurring disorders such as schizophrenia and substance abuse.
  • Counseling – The road to recovery from substance abuse can start during the detox period. Trained counselors begin conversations about the addiction, including diagnosis of psychotic symptoms and causes.
  • Program Referral – Guided by counselors, individuals can consider the best treatment options. The steps into successful recovery can begin during medical detox.

The benefits of medical detox are equally important no matter if there are simultaneously occurring mental health conditions or not. No one should assume they can safely detox from drugs or alcohol. Once the detox period is complete, there are various treatment options and methods available.

Inpatient Treatment

There are essentially two basic types of treatment for substance use. Various treatment facilities will apply a variety of treatment models to these two basic structures. The first is inpatient treatmentThe location of residence during treatment is the key difference between the programs. Making the choice between a residential or inpatient treatment program should be made with the help of a trained addiction counselor.

During an inpatient program, the individual will stay at the treatment facility. The length of inpatient treatment programs differs. The length of treatment is something that will come from the advice of a trained counselor. 

However, there are three critical factors to keep in mind:

  • Nature of Substance Abuse – Certain types of narcotics and excessive abuse of drugs or alcohol will require longer treatment programs. This can also be a factor when deciding between inpatient and outpatient programs.
  • The Length of Substance Abuse – Considering the length of addiction is important. When the length of time is extensive, the need for medical detox and treatment duration increases.
  • Dual diagnosis – Each mental health disorder has increased risk factors to consider when selecting the type and length of treatment. This can be especially important when the two conditions involve schizophrenia and self-medication issues.

Under certain circumstances, it is either deemed unnecessary or too difficult to enter a residential inpatient treatment facility. When there is some flexibility or need to remain living at home, outpatient treatment programs can be another option.

Outpatient Treatment

When substance use is serious, it might be wise to reconsider outpatient treatment. The choice between inpatient and outpatient treatment should not depend on convenience. However, there are some things to think about when deciding between the two. 

Here are some aspects of outpatient treatment that may make it a viable option:

  • Intensity the Substance Abuse – Anyone who hasn’t reached a dangerous level of substance abuse may be a candidate for outpatient treatment.
  • Nature of Employment – This can become a factor in making a final decision between an inpatient plan and outpatient services. The consequences of possibly losing a job and the level of substance abuse will factor into this important decision.
  • Health Issues – Substance abuse can cause various health issues. Most treatment facilities can address basic health concerns. Some situations may warrant outpatient treatment when certain health problems require constant monitoring.
  • Family Responsibilities – A person’s family is an integral part of recovery decisions. The final choice must be made based on what the person needs. However, certain family responsibilities can make the structure of a residential inpatient treatment program difficult.

Remember, choosing medical detox and the type of treatment should be made with the professional advice of an addiction specialist. Once the type and length of treatment are determined, we can discuss the other aspects of recovery.

Therapy for Addiction

The approach that counselors will use to help establish a foundation for successful recovery will vary. There are different methods to help uncover the symptoms surrounding any individual addiction. These can be especially apparent when people with schizophrenia use substances.

Psychotherapy plays a vital role in helping with dual diagnosis. By discovering the mental health issues that may explain an addictive lifestyle, a pathway for recovery can be charted. The types of therapy can also include group sessions and family therapy.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Properly prescribed antipsychotic medications can be tremendously helpful. This type of drug-induced schizophrenia treatment can be especially critical with co-occurring mental health conditions. Licensed counselors can prescribe antipsychotic medications to help target the mental health disorder, which at the same time helps make strides in battling the addiction.

Holistic and Alternative Treatment

Alternative types of addiction treatment therapy have proven successful. Combining various treatment methods forms a holistic or complete approach to the treatment. Counselors do more than stress how bad it is to be addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Using the dual-diagnosis model, treatment facilities treat the whole person, not just the addiction. This is critical since it is understood by treatment specialists that addiction is but a symptom of other problems. This holistic approach is even more critical when psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia exist. Recovery programs are also putting into practice several types of alternative treatment methods.

Treatment facilities are exposing people to healthy lifestyle changes such as exercise, music, or the arts. Meditation has always been a part of various recovery models. These alternative treatment ideas not only help improve the chances of successful recovery, but they also begin to form a foundation for new things to replace an old addicted lifestyle.

Contact North Jersey Recovery Center Today!

Living with an addiction is a difficult struggle. When entangled with a severe mental health disorder such as schizophrenia, it can be dangerous. Drug and alcohol abuse can lead to death. The mixture of mental illness and substance abuse only compounds the problem. Addiction can seem like a lonely, hopeless place, especially if someone suffers from a co-occurring disorder such as schizophrenia. The combination can be dangerous. It doesn’t have to be. There is hope, and that hope is in recovery.

Recovery begins with taking the first step and asking for help. You can choose to put off making that call until tomorrow, but tomorrow could be too late. Call us here at North Jersey Recovery Center today and begin your wonderful journey of recovery at our schizophrenia treatment center.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Laura Riley

Medical Reviewer

Laura comes to NJRC with 23 years of vast clinical experience in hospital, residential, outpatient, and community outreach settings where she has worked, supervised clinical teams, and volunteered. She has provided substance abuse and mental health counseling, clinical coordination, and advocacy to individuals, families and groups, and specializes in co-occurring disorders for both adults and adolescents.