There have been several theories about why schizophrenia and substance abuse are so closely linked. The most common substances abused by people with schizophrenia are alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, and cannabis. A 2002 report on “Co-Occurring Alcohol Use Disorder and Schizophrenia” shows that 47% of schizophrenics struggle with some type of substance abuse and, of that percentage, 37% of them struggle specifically with alcohol use disorder (AUD). Studies have also found that it is important to treat dual-diagnosis such as schizophrenia and addiction with an integrated treatment approach that focuses on both schizophrenia and addiction simultaneously, instead of receiving treatment for each diagnosis separately.

Theories Linking Schizophrenia and Substance Abuse

There is a theory that schizophrenics are prone to substance abuse because they may use drugs and alcohol as a way to self-medicate. However, addictive substances often make schizophrenic symptoms worse rather than relieve them. It is more likely that substance abusers can become schizophrenic because of the side effects of the substances they abuse. For schizophrenics, substance abuse can have a negative effect on psychosis and can cause a higher frequency of hospitalization or institutionalization. Schizophrenics who are struggling with addiction are also more likely to be incarcerated. Many people with schizophrenia have hyperactive dopamine, which can cause them to crave drugs that increase dopamine transmissions such as nicotine and antipsychotic medications.  Due to their disability, schizophrenics often end up in impoverished areas where they might be exposed to substance abuse environments.  It is also believed that schizophrenics are prone to substance abuse because they have poor impulse control and impaired judgment that makes them more susceptible to becoming addicted to a substance after only being exposed to a small dosage.

Substance Abuse Increases Schizophrenic Symptoms

As previously mentioned, substance abuse can increase schizophrenic symptoms. It is found that schizophrenics who also suffer from addiction have higher rates of depression and hospitalization. Studies have shown that people with schizophrenia and substance abuse problems tend to be prone to “ increased recurrence of psychiatric symptoms, psychosocial instability, other substance use disorders, violence, victimization, legal problems, medical problems such as HIV infection and hepatitis, family problems, and institutionalization in hospitals and jails.” Many schizophrenics who suffer from addiction reject prescribed medication or outpatient treatments. However, when people with schizophrenia have received help and recovered from their addiction, their schizophrenic symptoms also tend to improve. When someone has a dual diagnosis they need a dual treatment that focuses on recovering from both disorders at the same time. 

Addiction recovery is not a journey a person should take on their own, especially if they have a dual diagnosis with schizophrenia or other mental disorder. Schizophrenia is highly linked to substance abuse, but the proper treatment can be life-changing.  Substance abuse can make schizophrenic symptoms worse and lead to higher rates of depression and hospitalization. Alta Loma believes in integrated treatment that is tailored to each person based on their specific needs and they focus on treatments for both schizophrenia and substance abuse at the same time. If you are struggling with addiction or a co-occurring mental health issue, call Alta Loma at (866) 457-3843 today.