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Schizophrenia and the Risks of Substance Abuse

Last Updated on June 5, 2017 by Inspire Malibu

One of the most stigmatized mental disorders in the United States is Schizophrenia. Much of the population associates this severe, chronic and disabling illness with violence, drug abuse and even homelessness. It’s then startling to find out that the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 1.1 percent of the U.S. population copes with schizophrenic episodes each year.

While this disease is treatable, many of those suffering go undiagnosed or are unwilling to seek help due to society’s negative outlook on it. As a result, schizophrenics often self-medicate, using drugs or alcohol to alleviate the very painful symptoms. Studies have shown that 47% of patients diagnosed with schizophrenia also cope with substance abuse issues.

Schizophrenia Brain
A dual diagnosis, sometimes called co-occurring disorder, is the presence of a mental disorder that coexists with another disease, such as addiction to alcohol and drugs. This combination of illnesses causes severe problems for schizophrenics. While alcohol and drugs might dull their symptoms in the beginning, they increase the likelihood of depression, hallucinations, violence and trouble with the law.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), is used by healthcare professionals around the world for diagnosing mental illnesses.

According to the DSM-5, Some of the Symptoms of Schizophrenia Include:

DSM-5 Schizophrenia Symptoms

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Disorganized speech, such as incoherence or being easily derailed in conversation
  • Catatonic behavior
  • Diminished emotional expression
  • Lack of motivation
  • Paranoia

In stark contrast to public fears about schizophrenics, research has shown that the population suffering with this disease is less likely to be aggressive, while at the same time are more likely to be victimized as a result of their diminished physical and mental state. Additional data reveals that a symptom of this mental disorder shows patients living with schizophrenia do not know they have it.

Left untreated, people with schizophrenia generally die earlier than the rest of the population. This is due to a number of factors. More than 50 percent of schizophrenics smoke cigarettes regularly. Pulmonary and cardiovascular disease, as well as weight gain and diabetes are more common in those suffering from this mental illness. Sadly, 5 to 6 percent die from suicide, and as many as 20% of attempt suicide.

Stimulant abuse and the use of drugs like cocaine or methamphetamines, is particularly deadly for schizophrenics. These drugs can increase the severity of their symptoms, not to mention they are highly addictive. Patients who are being treated, and still abusing drugs or alcohol risk interactions between their medications as well.

People living with schizophrenia and coping with addiction can get effective treatment at a facility equipped to handle cases of dual diagnosis. In order to see positive recovery results, both illnesses must be addressed. With treatment it’s possible to lessen the symptoms of one of the disorders, giving patients the opportunity to begin working on the other.

Individuals coping with these disorders will display different symptoms and behaviors. For this reason, it’s important to seek care with physicians and experts in both psychiatry and drug and alcohol rehabilitation.


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