About 70 percent of people who have schizophrenia will also have a substance abuse disorder. That is often because people who have the complex mental disorder will turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to cope with their illness.
Schizophrenia affects the way a person thinks, acts and sees the world, and can often create a distorted sense of reality. People who suffer from the disorder may experience paranoia or mental disorganization. No single cause for schizophrenia has been found, but genes, environment and brain chemistry can all play a role.
When substances are introduced into the life of a schizophrenic, there is an increased likelihood that the individual’s disorder will worsen. Schizophrenics who abuse drugs and alcohol are at increased risk for hospitalization because the substances exacerbate their symptoms and cause adverse effects, psychosocial stress and other medical problems.
Consequences of Substance Abuse
When substance abuse is coupled with schizophrenia, there is an increased risk of many problems. Some of the most common are crime, hostility and violence. This can make it difficult for schizophrenics to get the help they need because they may be physically aggressive or attack those who want to see them get better.
Medication is another factor that suffers when substance abuse is part of a schizophrenic’s life. Because of the substance abuse, individuals with schizophrenia are less likely to take their medication or may be non-compliant with following the medication’s directions. The chemicals found in drugs and alcohol can also interfere with medication prescribed to manage the symptoms of schizophrenia, and cause a weakening of the medicine’s strength and other adverse reactions.
Many patients with schizophrenia also report having depression. When alcohol abuse is introduced, this can worsen the depression. Alcohol, which is considered a depressant, can compound the problem, complicate the treatment and potentially lead to severe manic depression. Depression raises the chance that a schizophrenic will suffer from suicidal thoughts. Schizophrenics have a 10 percent risk of suicide, which is increased when substance abuse is present.
Smoking and Schizophrenia
The relationship between schizophrenia and nicotine dependence is another complexity that piques the curiosity of researchers. Schizophrenics are three times more likely to smoke than people without the disorder.
It is believed that smoking is a way for schizophrenics to self-medicate. However, smoking is not medication, and when schizophrenics smoke, they often need higher doses of antipsychotic medication.
An addiction to nicotine continues to be one of the most common forms of substance abuse for schizophrenics. Quitting smoking is particularly hard for schizophrenics because the withdrawal symptoms can cause symptoms of schizophrenia to worsen.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment Required
For people who are suffering from both schizophrenia and a substance abuse disorder, treatment that can address both at once is ideal. This type of dual diagnosis treatment can provide needed medical attention while also providing psychological help.
When schizophrenics undergo treatment for substance abuse, a residential treatment facility should be considered to provide ongoing support and supervision. This is essential because most schizophrenics do not have the skills needed to live independently, especially while they are attempting to recover from a substance abuse disorder.
There is hope for people suffering from schizophrenia and a substance abuse disorder. With the right support, therapy and medication, schizophrenics can live functional and satisfying lives. The key to successful living is finding help before the situation gets worse.