Lifeline Connections

Schizophrenia and Substance Use

Schizophrenia is a rare disorder, present in about 1% of the population, that is generally misrepresented in the media. The most common  depictions of schizophrenics show them as dangerous people to society; however, the truth is that those with schizophrenia are more likely to harm themselves than others. People with schizophrenia usually have a combination of two different subsets of symptoms, known as negative (flat affect or showing no emotion, lack of goal-oriented activities) and positive symptoms (delusions, hallucinations).

By scientists, schizophrenia is generally classified as a neurodegenerative disorder. However, recent research has found evidence that schizophrenia may begin from neural defects before birth. What is currently mind boggling researchers is the how so many people with schizophrenia can also have such a wide variety of symptoms.

There are still many things that we have to learn about schizophrenia, so that  we can help those who are currently suffering. The most common treatment for schizophrenia is the use of antipsychotic medication to lessen the occurrence of visual and auditory hallucinations, as well as, other signs of schizophrenia. Commonly, people with schizophrenia struggle with what psychologists refer to as reality testing; they cannot tell the difference between what is in their head and what its reality. There are a few subsets of schizophrenia as well that are differentiated by the amount of time symptoms are present in an individual’s behavior. Some people can have a brief psychotic disorder, in which they have one episode of schizophrenia for a few months that never returns. Schizoaffective disorder is when an episode of schizophrenia co-occurs with a mood disorder. Schizophreniform is a subtype of schizophrenia that only lasts for a month, but the individual
experiences frequently occurring episodes.

By the time of a schizophrenia diagnosis, many have already developed problems with substances and have developed substance use disorders. About 50% of people diagnosed with schizophrenia also have a co-occurring substance use disorder. Drug use by schizophrenics usually begins as a way to self-medicate for symptoms of anxiety and depression. What’s more is that data shows drug use, like cannabis, is an environmental stressor that can trigger schizophrenia onset in those who have a previously unknown disposition for it, genetically or otherwise. This is why a lot of current research is studying how early schizophrenia can be diagnosed so we can help those with symptoms earlier before they can set into a pattern of substance abuse. Due to this common co-occurrence, schizophrenia can sometimes be mistaken for drug abuse or drug-associated psychosis, because the symptoms are very similar.

If you or someone you know is struggling with schizophrenia, psychosis or another mental health issue, feel free to contact Lifeline Connections for help! Schizophrenia can be treated and such treatment, like anti-psychotics and psychoanalytic therapy, can vastly improve and reduce the impairment of living with schizophrenia. The sooner you get help, the sooner you can improve your mental health and move forward. You can visit or call 360.397.8246 for more information.

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