Schizophrenia And Substance Abuse

Research shows that people who suffer from severe mental illness often struggle with substance abuse too.

Many try to control or ease their symptoms with a temporary escape into drugs or alcohol.

This self-medication then creates a dual diagnosis and complicates treatment for both conditions.

A recent study attempted to determine the extent of abuse and dependency problems in those with schizophrenia. In order for a person to heal, all of their illnesses must be addressed. Researchers suggest more studies to successfully find and treat any substance abuse problems for those with schizophrenia.

Substance abuse holds back healing

The agony of schizophrenia sometimes causes individuals to try drugs or alcohol to alleviate these symptoms. However, substance abuse only worsens the mental illness in multiple ways:

  • It reduces the efficacy of anti-psychotic medication and mental health treatment
  • It worsens the symptoms of schizophrenia
  • It reduces the chances that schizophrenia patients will follow the treatment plans mapped out by their doctor.

Once an individual gets caught in the cycle of using substances like cocaine and amphetamines to try alleviating their illness, they will need the help of experts to sort out their separate illnesses, treat them, and find ways to help the patient correctly manage their symptoms in the future.

Smoking and schizophrenia

The number of smokers who have schizophrenia is three times higher than the national average of smokers. Smoking is the most common form of substance abuse among those with schizophrenia.

Nicotine hampers treatment for schizophrenia. Anti-psychotic drugs lose their efficacy when nicotine interferes and patients need greater and greater doses of medication in order to try and stay ahead of smoking’s detrimental effects.

Researchers also find that it is very difficult for those with schizophrenia to quit smoking. The withdrawal stage from smoking temporarily makes schizophrenia symptoms worse and discourages the patient from going on. However, patients can manageably quit smoking with nicotine replacements which reduce withdrawal symptoms.

Substance abuse or substance dependency

Recently, Professor Sarah L. Desmarais of the Department of Psychology at North Carolina State University researched the validity and accuracy of diagnostic tools in determining the level of substance use in those with schizophrenia. Desmarais hoped to find the best method to test a person with schizophrenia for substance abuse and substance dependency.

In her sample of 1,460 adults with schizophrenia, she did not find a large variation of the accuracy of results. Desmarais stated that tests should be given according to the different needs and restraints of each individual. She also acknowledged the need for more research in order to find any underlying substance abuse or dependency problems in those with schizophrenia. Healing the substance abuse is one step closer to healing the mind of someone with schizophrenia.

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