Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders: Schizophrenia and Substance Abuse

schizophrenia and substance abuseSchizophrenia is a chronic brain disorder. Although it affects less than 1% of the population in the United States, it commonly co-occurs with other behavioral or mental health disorders.[1] One of the common co-occurring disorders is substance addiction. 

People who misuse certain substances may do so because of the negative effects they feel from schizophrenia, and others can develop schizophrenia as a result of continual substance misuse. It is important to understand schizophrenia and substance abuse and why they require special treatment when they co-occur.

What Is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a mental illness that alters how people feel, think, and behave. People who have schizophrenia appear disconnected from reality, and this causes them a lot of stress. Friends and family members often find it hard to communicate or reason with a person with schizophrenia. When the illness remains untreated, the symptoms worsen and can be debilitating. However, treatment can help people cope with life, maintain a job, live independently, and enjoy personal relationships again.

Doctors and researchers are still working to find out exactly how schizophrenia works on the brain. In one study, researchers found that people with too much glutamate in certain parts of their brains had a higher risk of developing schizophrenia. However, they found that as the disease progressed, those brain areas had decreased activity. Glutamate is a chemical that aids in memory formation and learning. Also, it helps send signals for brain actions.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Schizophrenia?

What Is Schizophrenia?Most people who develop schizophrenia receive a diagnosis in their late teen years, in their twenties, or in their thirties. Depending on the individual and the severity of the illness, schizophrenia may manifest itself in various ways. These are some common symptoms of schizophrenia:

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Disorganized behavior, thinking, speech and emotions
  • Inability to function normally

The last symptom refers to a broad range of possibilities. People with untreated schizophrenia may be unable to drive, go to the beach, go into a certain room or do specific things. For example, if a person has a delusion that people at a certain store are trying to hurt the individual, the person may not go there. A hallucination during an experience or in a certain place may make a person with schizophrenia avoid repeat exposure.

It is important to note that it can be harder to identify schizophrenia in teenagers. Since teens tend to have disorganized thinking and behavior, parents may not be able to identify signs of schizophrenia at first. To make it more difficult to detect, teens do not always have delusions and are more likely to experience visual hallucinations, which parents may mistake for other issues. Teens tend to withdraw from normal activities, have trouble sleeping, perform poorer in school, and feel unmotivated.

What Is Substance Abuse?

Substance abuse is misusing a substance, such as alcohol, prescription painkillers, or something else. Some drugs or substances lead to dependence, which means that people become dependent on them to achieve the same effects. 

As people become dependent, their brains send signals that create strong urges to use more of the substance. In addition to creating a risk of a dangerous overdose, this causes people to behave in ways they normally may not behave. For example, they may lie or steal to obtain more of a substance.

When substance abuse turns into an addiction, it is considered a chronic brain disease. The effects of addiction on the brain are visible on scans and last long after a person detoxes from a substance. However, if a person abstains from a substance, the brain may partially or fully recover.

Since substance abuse can have negative long-term effects, it is important to seek professional treatment for it. Many people who try to detox alone wind up relapsing, and some require a larger amount of the substance to achieve the same result. This can lead to a fatal overdose. Professional addiction treatment is a must.

What Are the Signs of Substance Abuse?

What Is Substance Abuse?Since substances alter brain chemistry and signals, it can be difficult for some people to recognize when they develop a substance misuse problem. It can also be difficult for loved ones of people with schizophrenia to determine if the individual is developing an addiction. These are some signs of substance abuse:

  • Feeling that the normal dose is no longer effective and frequently taking more than prescribed.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when decreasing or stopping a substance.
  • Withdrawing from social activities, family responsibilities, and work.
  • Spending an unusual amount of time trying to obtain, use and recover from a substance.
  • Continuing to use a substance after understanding the problems it causes.
  • Experiencing new legal or financial troubles because of needing to use the substance or trying to obtain more of it.

People who are trying to identify signs of substance abuse in a loved one may notice withdrawal from normal activities. The individual may be moodier than usual or have drastic and frequent mood swings. There may be empty containers or drug paraphernalia stashed in the person’s room or home. The person may carefully guard a purse, bag, or drawer that holds the substance.

Some people appear unusually lethargic or talkative. Whether a person is more or less energetic often depends on the type of substance the individual abuses. For example, opioids make people sleepier, and stimulants make them more energetic. 

In those who have schizophrenia, some substances may exacerbate the symptoms of schizophrenia that already exist. The individual may have heightened delusions, hallucinations, or behavioral changes. According to some studies, there is a high rate of incarceration among people with schizophrenia who abuse substances.

Importance of Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Schizophrenia and Addiction

Dual diagnosis treatment involves treating two co-occurring disorders at the same time. When it comes to schizophrenia and drug use or alcohol use, professionals treat the addiction and the schizophrenia. For some people, this may mean staying in a treatment facility longer or having frequent meetings with a professional counselor after drug or alcohol detox.

Experts estimate that up to 50% of people with schizophrenia may also have a co-occurring substance use disorder. To complicate matters, the comorbidity of the two makes treatment more difficult. Treating only one disorder leaves the other one untreated. When that happens, there is a higher risk of relapse and worsening problems.

For example, a person with schizophrenia who only treats schizophrenia will still feel the need to use a substance after an addiction develops. If a person goes through detox and addiction treatment, the schizophrenia still remains. Even if the person feels better for a short time, the negative effects of schizophrenia that drove the individual to seek substances in the first place will return. With dual diagnosis treatment for schizophrenia and drug abuse or alcohol abuse, people have a much better chance of beating addiction and living a fuller life.

Types of Treatment for Schizophrenia and Drug Abuse

Types of Treatment for Schizophrenia and Drug AbuseTreatment programs include counseling, and professionals help people identify the reasons for their behaviors. They help them identify triggers related to addiction. Also, they help people with schizophrenia improve cognition. Treatment for the illness often includes medications that balance brain chemicals and signals.

Combining addiction therapy with the right schizophrenia treatment program can help many people return to a more normal lifestyle. Therapy approaches may include CBT, DBT, EMDR, trauma therapy, and other approaches. Many treatment plans benefit from holistic elements, such as yoga for overall wellness or writing therapy to help people express themselves. Proper nutrition and exercise are also important components of a treatment plan. 

Therapies may focus on individual needs and those of an entire family. There are also group therapy programs, which include treatment in a group setting with others who have schizophrenia, substance addiction, or both.

Finding Schizophrenia and Addiction Treatment in Woodland Hills

If you are looking for treatment for schizophrenia and drug abuse for a loved one, we are here to help. Our compassionate team can provide you with helpful information about treatment options, insurance, convincing a loved one to get treatment, and more. If you are looking for treatment for schizophrenia and drug use for yourself, our team wants to help you with the next steps. Reaching out for help and admitting a problem is difficult. However, it is possible to overcome addiction, treat schizophrenia and live the fuller life you deserve.

At Harmony Place, we take a complete treatment approach and include therapies that focus on mind, body, and spirit. With the help of professionals, it is possible to learn the strategies to beat the cycle of addiction and the strategies to cope with the effects of schizophrenia in life. To learn more about our treatment programs for schizophrenia and substance abuse in Woodland Hills or nearby Los Angeles areas, please contact us.