Schizophrenia and Substance Abuse

Schizophrenia and Substance Abuse


Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that manifests in complex and confusing symptoms. People who suffer schizophrenia have a breakdown in normal thought processes and emotional responses. Schizophrenia suffers will exhibit symptoms of auditory hallucinations, paranoid or bizarre delusions, disorganized speech and thinking and significant social dysfunction. In addition to these common symptoms, schizophrenic people will often become withdrawn, suffer extreme anxiety have poor hygiene, lack of interest in regular activities, become agitated and violent and may become mute or catatonic is severe cases.

Onset of Schizophrenia

The onset of schizophrenia is most commonly seen in late adolescence and early adulthood which are considered important stages in social, behavioral and emotional development. 40 percent of men and 23 percent of women who are diagnosed with schizophrenia develop the condition before age of 19. It affects about 1 percent of the population in America. Individuals and families of those who have schizophrenia often are significantly impacted by the disease. Many people with the disease are unable to hold a job, function in society or even care for themselves and rely on family to care for them. There is no known cure for schizophrenia however, there are a number of successful treatments for symptoms that provide relief for some. Many continue to exist with the disabling condition for the rest of their lives.

Schizophrenia Not Linked to Single Cause

Schizophrenia cannot be linked to one single cause, rather it appears to be the result of multiple causes. These include genetic vulnerability, environmental and psychological assaults and possible hormonal changes that alter brain chemistry. Those who have a family history of schizophrenia have been found to have a 20-40 percent chance of developing the condition. Scientists have found that there may be a genetic flaw that causes the brain chemistry to malfunction at important developmental stages. Research is still ongoing. In addition to genetic or familial vulnerability, exposure to viruses, malnourishment before birth, difficulty at birth and other psychosocial factors may be factors. Schizophrenia has also been found to be caused by or cause an imbalance in neurotransmitters such as dopamine and glutamine. In addition, abnormalities in brain nerve cells and connections has been found.

Substance Abuse

Substance Abuse is a term used to describe the misuse of legal and illegal substances to the point of intoxication or inebriation. Substances grouped into this category include alcohol, prescription medications, illegal drugs and psychoactive chemicals. Substance abuse is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) as a maladaptive pattern of substance use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress as manifested by one (or more) of the following, occurring within a 12 month period:

* Recurrent substance use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school or home – e.g. repeated absences or poor work performance related to substance use; substance-related absences, suspensions or expulsions from school; neglect of children or household.
* Recurrent substance use in situations in which it is physically hazardous – e.g. driving a vehicle or operating machinery when impaired by substance use.
* Recurrent substance-related legal problems – e.g. arrests for substance-related disorderly conduct
* Continued substance use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of the substance – e.g. arguments with spouse about consequences of intoxication, physical fights.

Symptoms of substance abuse or dependence include a loss of control over substance use, devotion of increasing amounts of time and effort into obtaining and using the substance and physical and mental health problems such as liver disease, hepatitis or psychosis directly caused by substance use.

Schizophrenia and Substance Abuse

Studies suggest that there is a significant number of people who suffer from schizophrenia that also have a co-occurring disorder of substance abuse. Some people who abuse drugs will show symptoms similar to schizophrenia and may be misdiagnosed. However, studies have shown that people who do have schizophrenia are more likely to have a substance abuse problem than the general population. Males aged 18-44 have been found to be those in the most high risk for co-occuring substance abuse.

Substances are often taken to self medicate the symptoms of schizophrenia – drugs help silence voices and thoughts, allows suffers to relax and sleep, and alleviate some of the debilitating paranoia and anxiety symptoms. Cannabis is found to be one of the most frequently abused drug by schizophrenic patients. Sadly, it is associated with worse clinical outcomes; an MRI study has found that there is faster occurring gray matter loss in schizophrenia patients who use cannabis regularly than those who do not.

Substance abuse can make treatment for schizophrenia less effective. It may also be dangerous for those who are receiving medical treatment for schizophrenia as alcohol and other substances can reduce the effectiveness of drugs. Substance abuse can make treatment for schizophrenia less effective. Some drugs such as LSD, amphetamines or cocaine may contribute to a worsening of the condition. Some suggest that schizophrenia or schizophrenic episodes can be triggered by heavy use of hallucinogenic drugs including ketamine, ecstasy, LSD and methamphetamine. This is particularly the case if the substance abuse occurs during formative years.

Substance abuse is recognized to contribute to the worsening of schizophrenia in that it not only causes major health problems such as liver disease, but it can also damage psychological health. Some drugs such as methamphetamine have been found to cause brain damage when used frequently which can worsen the symptoms of schizophrenia. Drugs can also cause a person to withdraw further from family, friends and places of work to continue to abuse their drug of choice which means feelings of paranoia, isolation and loneliness will increase. Anti-social behavior and violence are common symptoms of drug abuse and when combined with schizophrenia, these can have a devastating result.