Addiction and Schizophrenia Diagnosis
Although substance use disorders often co-occur with other mental health and medical disorders, you do not have to already have a mental disorder to start using drugs and later become addicted to them. However, there is a high probability that you will develop a mental disorder - or display some symptoms of mental imbalance - once you have developed a substance use disorder.
Almost everyone who is addicted to alcohol or drugs will display these mental health disorders at one level or the other. This is largely as a result of the fact that addictive substances cause certain chemical imbalances in the human brain.
With regards to schizophrenia, it is important that you are able to tell the difference between schizophrenia that was induced by your substance abuse and actual schizophrenia.
This can only happen once you stop using the intoxicating substance that you were taking for a long period of time, your health issues are taken care of, and your brain has had time to heal from your substance use disorder.
A proper evaluation might show that you are not schizophrenic although you displayed the symptoms of this condition when you were drinking alcohol and/or abusing intoxicating drugs. If this happens, it would ideally mean that your substance use was the main cause of these adverse symptoms of a mental health condition.
As you can probably tell, this is only possible once you have been through an addiction treatment and rehabilitation program. Only in such a program can you ensure that you have not received a misdiagnosis. It can also ensure that you receive the right medications to manage your condition.
As we mentioned above, when you take drugs and drink alcohol - and they cause you to become addicted - there is a high probability that you will start displaying symptoms that are similar to those displayed by schizophrenics. As a result, you might be mistaken for a schizophrenic when you are just an alcohol or drug addict.
Today, many researchers believe that substance abuse is not the cause of schizophrenia. Rather, it can lead to the development of symptoms that are similar to what you would experience if you were a schizophrenic.
On the other hand, the same researchers assert that if you already have pre-existing schizophrenia, you might have a high likelihood of abusing drugs and drinking alcohol - much higher than many people in the general population.
Your continued substance abuse might also make your schizophrenia treatments less effective than they would otherwise have been. Further, if you take some drugs - such as stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines or marijuana - your symptoms of schizophrenia will worsen. Research studies, for instance, have found that there is a strong link between the symptoms of schizophrenia and marijuana use.
Substance Abuse and Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is one of the most severe and complex mental health disorders that you can develop. When this happens, it will typically interfere with your natural ability to act, feel, and think.
It is often characterized by a lost sense of reality, paranoia, and hallucinations. In many situations this condition is also often accompanied by simultaneous substance abuse and addiction.
Since it is a debilitating mental health disorder, schizophrenia can also affect the way you think, feel, and act. This means that you might start seeing things that don't exist or hearing voices in your health. Additionally, there is a high probability that you could display signs and symptoms of delusional and irrational thinking, as well as of paranoia.
Unfortunately, if you have this condition, there is also a high probability that you could start drinking alcohol and abusing drugs. However, even if you do not have this condition, you could might still display some signs and symptoms that might be confused with schizophrenia.
When you have been diagnosed with co-occurring disorders, it means that you would have a health disorder like substance abuse and addiction over and above your mental health disorder. These disorders would occur at the same time - and they tend to be quite common both among addicts and among schizophrenics.
In fact, the National Library of Medicine - the NLM - reports that close to 50 percent of all people who are schizophrenic also have a concurrent history of substance abuse and/or addiction. This is according to various studies that were conducted on the matter.
When you have a co-occurring disorder over and above your schizophrenia, it is highly likely to hinder the progress of your treatment for this mental health condition. The schizophrenia, on the other hand, could also interfere with your addiction treatment and recovery.
If you have schizophrenia, there is also a high risk that you might be less likely to start and continue engaging in your mental health treatment especially if you have already been abusing alcohol and drugs.
Abusing substances could also increase your risk of homelessness, trauma, and suicide when you have schizophrenia - among many other health and wellness risks. At the same time, studies have reported that psychedelic drugs, cocaine, marijuana, alcohol, and nicotine are the substances of abuse that are most commonly taken by people who are schizophrenic. For instance, more than 33.7 percent of all the people who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia also meet the basic criteria for an alcohol use disorder.
Addiction and mental health treatment professionals now believe that people who are schizophrenic might start abusing these substances as a way to alleviate their negative symptoms as well as to self-medicate.
If you have co-occurring substance abuse and addiction and schizophrenia, you might have to check into a specialized addiction treatment and rehabilitation program. This way, you will be able to get these disorders treated concurrently instead of independently. As a result, this form of treatment could provide you with the highest chances of making a full recovery.
It is also essential that you know and understand the various symptoms and signs of schizophrenia. By so doing, you will be able to tell whether you actually have this condition or you are just displaying its signs as a result of your ongoing substance abuse and addiction.
Causes of Schizophrenia
Although doctors and researchers are yet to uncover the exact causes of schizophrenia, there are some factors that they believe could play a major role in leading to the development of this disorder. The following are some of the main factors that might cause you to become schizophrenic:
1. Brain Structure and Chemistry
Today, researchers believe that chemical imbalances involving neurotransmitters like glutamate and dopamine could contribute to the development of this condition. At the same time, if you have schizophrenia, there is a high probability that the structure of your brain will be different from that one someone without this condition.
This is because your ventricles - the fluid-filled cavities at the center of the brain - could be larger if you are diagnosed with schizophrenia. Additionally, you may have less than normal levels of gray matter. Further, some parts of your brain might have more or less activity than a healthy brain.
2. Substance Use and Abuse
When you take mind altering substances - especially during your teens and young adulthood - there is a high risk that you could develop this condition. Additional substance use can also speed up the rate at which schizophrenia develops.
There are some environmental factors that could contribute to the development of this condition. These factors include but are not always limited to:
- Complications during birth
- Exposure to chemicals and viruses when you are in the womb
- Malnutrition before birth
- Psychosocial influences
All these factors are potential risks for the development of schizophrenia. Additionally, if you have an older father, you might end up becoming schizophrenia later on in your life.
It is now known that schizophrenia is genetic condition that runs in families. Although the condition occurs in less than 1% of the entire American population, studies have reported that 10 percent of people with first degree relatives living with schizophrenia also have a high risk of developing this condition. At the same time, if you have a second degree relative who is schizophrenic, you would also have a high risk of becoming one yourself. In case you have an identical twin who is schizophrenia, there is a 40 to 65 percent chance that you could also develop this mental health disorder as well.
Common Schizophrenia Symptoms
In case you have schizophrenia, its symptoms will not start making themselves seen until your late teens or early young adulthood. In fact, the diagnosis of this condition tends to be rare among the very young or among people above the age of 45. Often, the condition occurs among males. This is even though some women have also been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Most of the symptoms of this condition tend to be extremely debilitating. As a result, they are highly likely to hinder your natural ability to continue functioning as you normally would.
That said, the following are some of the common signs and symptoms of schizophrenia:
a) Abnormal Behavior
For starters, there is a high risk that you could develop abnormal behavior when you are schizophrenic. The signs and symptoms of this behavior might vary widely. As a result, they might be difficult to recognize and comprehend.
Most of these behavioral symptoms might range from acting unpredictably agitated to behaving irregularly childish. When you exhibit these symptoms, you will also have a high likelihood of resisting instructions, failing to respond to communication from others, display inappropriate or odd movements and posture, and exhibit many other irregular and odd behaviors.
One of the reasons why people who have a substance use disorder are often misdiagnosed with schizophrenia is because they also display these types of abnormal behavior. As a result, this often leads to them being diagnosed with this mental health condition when it might not necessarily be true that they are schizophrenic.
b) Disorganized Thinking
This symptom is often manifested through a lack of organized speech. It tends to occur quite frequently among people who are schizophrenic. When you have disorganized thinking, it will often hinder you from being able to communicate effectively.
For instance, if you are asked a question, you might give an answer that is completely unrelated to what you were asked. You may also answer to a question that was not asked. You might also exhibit word salad. This condition means that you will combine thoughts and words in a nonsensical fashion.
As you can imagine, another reason why you might be diagnosed with schizophrenia when you do not have the condition but have been abusing drugs and drinking alcohol is because these substances might have also disorganized your ability to think rationally and clearly.
When you experience delusions as a result of schizophrenia, you will typically have strongly held beliefs that are false and not based on logic or reality. Often, most of these delusions would be characterized by fear and paranoia.
Today, delusions are among the most common symptoms displayed by schizophrenics. This is because an average of 80 percent of people living with schizophrenia experience these delusions.
Some of these delusions include:
- Believing that people are in love with you when they are not
- Believing that unrelated and random comments and gestures are directed at you
- Having a false believe that you wield extraordinary powers and abilities
- Irrational feelings or getting harassed or harmed
- Thinking that you are about to experience a major catastrophe in your life when this might not necessarily be true
Again, ongoing substance abuse and addiction can also cause you to experience these delusions. It is for this reason that you might receive a misdiagnosis for schizophrenia when your delusions could just be a sign of your addiction.
When you experience schizophrenic hallucinations, you will hear or see things that might not necessarily exist. Even so, you will start believing that these things might be real. You could experience these hallucinations through any of your senses. However, hearing voices might be the most common hallucination that you suffer as a result of your schizophrenia.
You might also start seeing events, objects, and people who are not necessarily there. Further, you could smell odors that may not exist, or feeling things like invisible fingers on you when there is no one around you.
These hallucinations are also a common occurrence when you abuse various addictive substances and develop a substance use disorder as a result. It is for this reason that you might think that you have schizophrenia when you are just suffering from an addiction.
e) Negative Symptoms
When you experience negative symptoms of schizophrenia, they will typically hinder your ability to function rationally and normally. These symptoms are often accompanied by social withdrawal and isolation. They can include but are not always limited to:
- Finding that you cannot carry out certain activities
- Inability to plan your activities
- Lack of emotion
- Loss of interest
- Monotone speech
- Neglecting your personal hygiene and wellness
- No longer being able to experience pleasure
- Not changing your facial expressions
- Not making eye contact
- Speaking less
You might also display many or all of these symptoms when you are intoxicated on the drugs that you are addicted to. If you check into an addiction treatment and rehabilitation center, these symptoms might confuse the intake professionals. As a result, they could diagnose you with addiction and schizophrenia when you might just be an addict.
Common Substances Abused by Schizophrenics
Although displaying schizophrenic symptoms does not necessarily mean that you might have this mental health condition, there is a high probability that you could be suffering from both substance abuse and addiction as well as schizophrenia.
In fact, substance use disorders are among the most common of all co-occurring disorders experienced by people who are schizophrenic. Today, research studies have shown that if you have this condition, you might start using addictive substances for a variety of reasons, including to self-medicate the negative symptoms of your schizophrenia.
There are also some substances of abuse that are commonly taken by people who are schizophrenic. These substances include cocaine, cannabis, alcohol, and nicotine. Read on to find out more:
Over 40 percent of all the tobacco cigarettes that are smoked in the country are taken by people who have a mental disorder. Schizophrenia is also linked to high rates of cigarette smoking. NIDA - the National Institute on Drug Abuse - for instance reports that the rates of smoking among people who have schizophrenia ranges as high as the 90 percent mark.
The American Journal of Psychiatry also cited a study that reported that people who smoke cigarettes and have schizophrenia mostly tend to be male. These people also have earlier onset of this condition, and a higher number of prior hospitalizations.
The US National Library of Medicine also cites studies that show that nicotine use tends to alleviate the cognitive deficiencies that you might experience if you are schizophrenic. The substance might also be effective at reducing the severity of the symptoms that you will typically display when you have this condition.
However, the negative health effects of taking tobacco especially through cigarette smoke far outweigh all the potential benefits that you might experience in alleviating your schizophrenia.
Many people who might be diagnosed with schizophrenia tend to smoke and develop a nicotine addiction. Research studies have found that nicotine addiction is the main form of substance use disorder among people who have schizophrenia. This is because they tend to develop this form of substance addiction at 3 times the rates of the general population.
Even so, the relationship between schizophrenia and nicotine smoking and addiction is quite complex. This is because people who are schizophrenic tend to be driven to start and continue smoking. Researchers have now been trying to explore whether there might be a biological basis for such behavior.
At the same time, several studies find that smoking nicotine cigarettes - apart from the known health standards that it causes - can make the antipsychotic drugs that you might take for your schizophrenia condition much less effective than they would otherwise have been.
It might also be difficult for you to give up smoking when you have schizophrenia. This is because your nicotine withdrawal could potentially cause your psychotic symptoms to worsen over time.
However, it might be easier for you to try some quitting strategies - including nicotine replacement methods - because they may be easier for you to handle. It is for this reason that doctors who provide schizophrenia treatments need to observe how their patients respond to antipsychotic medications especially if the patients decide to stop or to start smoking tobacco.
If you check into an addiction treatment program to get help with your nicotine use and abuse, there is a high likelihood that you might display withdrawal symptoms that are similar to the signs of schizophrenia. As a result, you might receive a diagnosis for this mental health disorder although this might not necessarily be true.
Alcohol use disorders are the 2nd most common type of co-occurring disorder that is linked with schizophrenia. This is not entirely surprising because alcohol is widely available, legal, affordable, and socially accepted. This makes it one of the easiest choices of addictive substances that you can make if you have schizophrenia.
The Epidemiological Catchment Area program run by the National Institute of Mental Health released a study that reported that 33.7 percent of people with schizophrenia and schizophreniform disorders tend to meet the basic criteria for alcohol use disorders at one point or the other in their lives. These schizophreniform disorders refer to conditions that present symptoms that similar to what you would display if you had schizophrenia, but these symptoms are not long term.
The University of Vienna released a study report that showed that marijuana use could increase your risk of developing schizophrenia. In particular, teens who take this drug have twice as high a risk of becoming schizophrenic later on in their adulthood.
If you use marijuana heavily, it could also exacerbate or accelerate your symptoms of schizophrenia. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, for instance, has found evidence that using this drug on a daily basis could cause you to develop psychotic symptoms. This development would be at 1.6 to 1.8 times the same rates experienced by people who do not abuse this drug.
Even so, it is important to note that most of the people who abuse marijuana might develop the symptoms of schizophrenia without actually being schizophrenic. It is for this reason that you need to go through thorough addiction treatment and rehabilitation and stay away from this drug long enough to be able to tell where you are schizophrenic or you were simply displaying the symptoms of this mental condition.
The abuse of cocaine tends to be relatively high among people who are schizophrenic. However, taking this drug if you have this condition could increase your risk of non-compliance with mental health and addiction treatments, contribute to higher rates of hospitalization, and increase your risk of committing suicide.
Researchers also believe that if you have schizophrenia, you might start and continue abusing cocaine. This is because the drug could alleviate - if only for a short period of time - the symptoms of your mental health condition.
When you are addicted to cocaine, on the other hand, there is also a high probability that you might display symptoms that are similar to those that come from schizophrenia. It is for this reason that you might receive a wrong misdiagnosis for schizophrenia when you are just addicted to this substance.
Dangers of Co-Occurring Substance Abuse and Schizophrenia
If you are schizophrenic and you have been abusing intoxicating substances, you might increase your risk of suffering various negative consequences. You may, for example, have a higher likelihood of relapsing into psychosis. Further, the interaction of these conditions could cause you to start neglecting your antipsychotic medications or any other medical treatments that you might have. You could also commit violent acts or even end up dying as a result of suicide.
These conditions could also make you more vulnerable to illness and injury, and cause you to have poorer outcomes from psychosis treatment. You may also suffer higher rates of emergency and inpatient services. Additionally, the rates of incarceration tend to be higher among people who have both a substance use disorder and schizophrenia at the same time. That said, more than 50 percent of people who have been living with schizophrenia will end up developing a substance use disorder or an addiction later on in their lives.
If you continue abusing substances in the long term while struggling with schizophrenia, you could experience a major deterioration in your ability to function normally. Additionally, if you abuse cannabis and alcohol while living with schizophrenia, you could experience psychotic relapse even after being through a professional dual diagnosis treatment program.
If you are struggling with addiction and a co-occurring mental health disorder like schizophrenia, there is also a high probability that could end up dealing with more frequent paranoid delusions and auditory hallucinations.
Over and above everything else, substance abuse and addiction among schizophrenics is linked to major legal, health, and social consequences and complications. These issues could make it close to impossible for you to live a productive and healthy life. It is for this reason that it is recommended that you get help - whether you are just struggling with substance abuse that is accompanied by symptoms of schizophrenia, or you actually have schizophrenia.
Whether you have been misdiagnosed with schizophrenia or not, it is essential that you get the right kind of help to ensure that you overcome the issues that might have been causing problems in your life.
However, it is important that you see more than one addiction treatment professional to be able to receive a proper diagnosis. This is because your substance abuse could have caused you to start displaying symptoms that are similar to those that you would also have displayed if you were schizophrenic. Today, there are some effective evaluation and assessment methods used in the context of dual diagnosis treatment.
Even so, it might still be difficult for most drug rehab centers to discern whether you are just struggling with a substance use disorder or an addiction alongside a case of schizophrenia.
The only way that this might be possible would be if you have already received adequate treatment to help you overcome your addiction. You also need to have spent a significant period of time without abusing your favorite addictive substances for the treatment program to be able to tell whether you are simply addicted or you are also struggling with schizophrenia.
However, if you have a substance use disorder that co-occurs with your schizophrenia, it is highly likely that you could benefit from dual diagnosis treatment. This type of treatment would be even more effective because it would be integrated to ensure that both of these conditions are managed simultaneously and not independently. This is because dual diagnosis treatment can provide you with the highest chance of achieving full recovery from all of the conditions that you have been diagnosed with.
Some of the strategies that might be used during your dual diagnosis treatment include but are not limited to:
- Developing substance refusal skills
- Relapse prevention training
- Setting goals
- Urinalysis contingency
Through these methods, you might be able to reduce and completely overcome your substance use disorder, as well as start managing the adverse symptoms of your schizophrenia.
That said, there is a high risk that you might also be diagnosed with schizophrenia when you might just be struggling with a substance use disorder. This means that you might not see the need for treatment services.
However, it is recommended that you get help for your substance use disorder as soon as you possibly can. In the course of your treatment, you will be able to tell if you are also schizophrenic - or to rule out this possibility entirely.
Unless you have been through treatment, it might be difficult for you to differentiate between the symptoms of your addiction and the symptoms of schizophrenia. As a result, you may never be able to tell if you are just addicted or you are also schizophrenic.
The best way to do so would be to go through a professional addiction treatment program. Once your substance abuse has been duly managed and you have been off drugs and alcohol long enough, the treatment program could run additional mental health assessments to discern if you are also schizophrenic.
In the long run, this form of treatment is the best solution. Apart from helping you overcome your substance use disorder, it could also help you discover whether you are also schizophrenia - and get this condition managed too.