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schizophreniaWhat is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by abnormal social behavior, incoherent thoughts, delusions, hallucinations, and confused mental and emotional states. People with this debilitating condition may hear voices in their head and suffer additional mental health problems from being unable to discern reality.

Schizophrenia and Addiction

Those who suffer from schizophrenia often face secondary problems, including behavioral addictions, additional mental health problems, and substance use disorders. Before treating someone with schizophrenia and addiction, clinicians will attempt to define a single primary disorder and differentiate between pre-existing mental health problems and those brought about by substance abuse.

Understanding Schizophrenia

For many people, schizophrenia is diagnosed between the ages of 16 and 30, though there are outliers who do not fit into that age group.  Among schizophrenic individuals, you’ll find common symptoms that many people exhibit, including: 

  • Delusions: Schizophrenia can create closely-held beliefs in things that are not true.
  • Hallucinations: Many people with schizophrenia begin to hear voices or see things that are not really there.
  • Thought disorders that create unusual or dysfunctional methods of thinking- random systems and thoughts are often part of this disorder.
  • Movement disorders can cause agitated body movements at some times.
  • Reduced ability to speak or desire to speak to others.
  • Flat affect, resulting in lack of facial movements or body gestures.
  • Reduced pleasure from daily activities that an individual once enjoyed.

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What is a Dual Diagnosis?

Also know as co-occurring disorders, a dual diagnosis describes the simultaneous existence of a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder. The relationship between mental illness and substance abuse can develop in many ways, with some people developing drug problems as a direct result of mental illness and others developing mental health problems because of drug addiction.

Many people who suffer from schizophrenia turn to drugs and alcohol to calm anxiety and suppress unpleasant thoughts, and even internal voices or hallucinations. On the other hand, some people may strengthen suppressed symptoms of the disorder through prolonged substance abuse. Regardless of how the dual diagnosis has occurred, these are known as co-occurring disorders.

Dual diagnosis conditions manifest in many ways, from clear causal links through to complex bi-directional relationships.

schizophrenia-and-addictionCommon dual diagnosis conditions include:

Certain drugs can worsen the effects of schizophrenia, including marijuana, cocaine and amphetamines. While clear causal links do sometimes exist between disorders, it’s important to note the prevalence of complex bi-directional relationships. For example, psychoactive substance use can influence mental health, which in turn has an impact on patterns of drug abuse and dependence. Before treating a dual diagnosis condition, doctors will attempt to diagnose a primary disorder and differentiate between substance-induced conditions and those that existed prior to drug abuse.

What are the Challenges in Treating a Dual Diagnosis?

People living with a dual diagnosis face a number of complex challenges, including social challenges, physical health challenges, psychological health challenges, and challenges regarding treatment.

Challenges also arise during diagnosis and treatment, with doctors and medical staff often unable to differentiate between disorders and find appropriate treatment plans. Historic and philosophical separation exists between mental health and substance addiction treatment, with facilities often unable to take on patients with multiple disorders. While the situation is improving all the time, patients are often juggled between facilities and care providers before they find the help they need.

Treatment for Schizophrenia and Addiction

Getting treatment for schizophrenia and addiction at the same time can seem difficult. However, these two co-occurring disorders are relatively common, and many facilities are able to address both disorders through dual diagnosis treatment.

While treatment plans can vary, many plan goals are the same:

  • Help patients understand schizophrenia and how it impacts their brain and thoughts.
  • Teach patients that schizophrenia can be managed and addiction recovery is possible.
  • Show patients how to handle negative thoughts, emotions and even hallucinations.
  • Help patients understand behavior patterns they need to break.
  • Motivate patients to make major essential changes and work toward a happier, more productive life.

In most programs, treatment goals are achieved through group therapy, individualized therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. Medication for the management of the mental illness symptoms may be used as well.

After initial treatment, it is necessary to engage in continuing aftercare. Ongoing group therapy, individual therapy, or community outreach programs are often beneficial for people dealing with schizophrenia and addiction. Maintenance medications, as well as regular checkups with addiction professionals, and a network of support, are also recommended.

The co-occurrence of schizophrenia and addiction is a serious issue that, in most cases, cannot be overcome without professional support. Contact an addiction specialist today and finally find freedom from these two debilitating disorders.


  1. Behavioral Health Trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health [PDF]. (2015, September). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  2.  “Mental And Substance Use Disorders | SAMHSA – Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration”
  3.  “Mental And Substance Use Disorders | SAMHSA – Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration”. N.p., 2017. Web. 6 Apr. 2017.

Last updated on April 6th, 2017 at 08:07 pm

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