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.

Substance abuse is invariably but a symptom of deeper, often more serious issues. Mental health issues can present challenging hurdles to overcome on the pathway to a successful recovery. Schizophrenia and substance abuse can be one of the most difficult combinations to overcome. Let’s look at why schizophrenia and drug use make up for a dangerous dual diagnosis.

The Dangerous Bond Between Substance Abuse and Schizophrenia

The relationship between schizophrenia and drug use 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.

Both schizophrenia and substance abuse are characterized by levels of paranoia, hallucinations, and delusions. Someone with schizophrenia may experience any combination of these ailments in varying degrees of seriousness.

The same phenomenon occurs in someone who abuses drugs and alcohol. Alcohol and drug abuse 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 Schizophrenia Sufferers?

Abusing drugs and alcohol can be dangerous for a person with moderate mental health concerns. For schizophrenia sufferers, it 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 someone with schizophrenia abuses substances, there can be a dangerous magnifying of the effects. Drug and alcohol abusers can suffer from chemically-induced schizophrenia. Repeated occurrences of drug-induced psychosis can trigger schizophrenia.


Individuals who suffer from schizophrenia and abuse drugs or alcohol are highly susceptible to an increased level of impairment. Schizophrenia and drug use are associated with a more intense psychosis.

Frequently, this dangerous combination of schizophrenia and substance abuse 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?

How Substance Abuse Affect Schizophrenia?

People who suffer from schizophrenia are at a higher risk for alcoholism and drug addiction. Not only are schizophrenia and substance abuse challegning on their own, but schizophrenia and drug use are common co-occurring disorders.

In lieu of receiving professional help for their schizophrenia, many individuals attempt to self-medicate. We’ve explained how dangerous this can be. The combination of drugs and alcohol with any mental health disorder only compounds both.

Someone who would not even meet the diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia can develop schizophrenic tendencies after prolonged drug and alcohol abuse. Schizophrenia and drug use together quickly becomes a life-threatening situation.

This person must get help. Thankfully, help for the dangerous co-occurring condition of schizophrenia and addiction is available. Let’s look at some options for help for those individuals suffering from schizophrenia and substance abuse.

Help for Schizophrenia and Substance Abuse

There are individual programs for both schizophrenia and substance abuse. However, someone with both conditions should target a treatment program that specializes in dual-diagnosis treatment for co-occurring conditions like schizophrenia and drug use. Here some important 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 abuse 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 important 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 conditions 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 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 co-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 abuse. Various treatment facilities will apply a variety of treatment models to these two basic structures. The first is inpatient treatment.

The 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, here are two critical factors to keep in mind.

  • Nature of the 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 the Substance Abuse – Considering how long someone has been embroiled in a drug or alcohol addiction drugs is important. When the length of time is extensive, the need for medical detox and treatment duration increases.
  • Co-Occurring Conditions –The existence of a co-occurring mental health issue is another important decision in both type and length of treatment. This can be especially important when the two conditions involve schizophrenia and drug use.

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

The choice between inpatient and outpatient treatment should not be predicated on convenience. However, there are some things to think about when deciding between the two. When substance abuse is serious, it might be wise to reconsider outpatient treatment. 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 important 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, there are other parts of recovery that should be discussed.

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 when schizophrenia and drug use are co-occurring.

Psychotherapy is frequently used to help 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 medications can be tremendously helpful. This type of assistance can be especially critical with co-occurring mental health conditions. Licensed counselors can prescribe medication 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 co-occurring issues such as 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, they 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 serious 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 found in recovery.

Recovery begins with taking the first step to ask for help. You can choose to put off making that call until tomorrow, but tomorrow could be too late. Call us today and begin your wonderful journey of recovery.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Laura Riley

Laura-Riley-Cropped-Profile-150x150Laura Riley, MA, LCADC, CCS is an Administrator with North Jersey Recovery Center.