Schizophrenia and Addiction Treatment

Schizophrenia can be a frightening, disorienting, and painful mental health disorder for those with the illness as well as their loved ones. The fracturing of reality often causes extreme emotional distress, impaired function, and damage to relationships even with those closest to you. Schizophrenia also significantly increases the risk of drug addiction, adding another layer of suffering that requires specialized intervention.

A Break in Reality

Schizophrenia is a serious, chronic mental health disorder characterized by perceptual distortions at odds with reality. Delusions and hallucinations are combined with cognitive and behavioral dysfunctions that, if untreated, compromise your ability to live an emotionally and functionally stable life. For families, schizophrenia can feel like a tremendous loss, as their loved one is consumed by increasingly disturbing experiences. At times, loved ones must even act as caretakers in severe cases when schizophrenia diminishes the ability to live autonomously.

The causes of schizophrenia remain largely a mystery, even to experts. However, it is believed that the condition is caused by genetic and environmental factors that combine to trigger the emergence of symptoms. Imaging studies reveal notable differences in the brains of healthy people versus those with schizophrenia, and it is widely believed that these differences begin before birth. However, these differences do not necessarily mean that schizophrenia is inevitable; for some, a triggering event may be necessary to induce onset.

Symptoms of Schizophrenia

In pop culture, schizophrenia tends to be depicted as a complete split with reality. In actuality, people with schizophrenia experience a broad range of symptoms with varying levels of intensity. These symptoms include:


Delusions are false beliefs that have no basis in reality and often involve the belief that someone is out to get you, that you are a different person, that your mind is being controlled by forces beyond yourself, or that everyday objects have significant meaning. 90% of people with schizophrenia experience delusions at some point.


Hallucinations are distortions of sensory experience that are often extremely distressing to both those with schizophrenia and those around them. Auditory and visual hallucinations are hallucinatory experiences.

Disorganized Thinking and Speech

The cognitive disturbances caused by schizophrenia can manifest as incomplete and incomprehensible thoughts which lead to disorganized speech. Jumping from topic to topic, being able to speak only in fragmented sentences, repeating words and phrases, and speaking in a language of your own invention may all be symptoms of this phenomenon.

Disorganized Behavior

Behavioral disorganization includes the inability to perform basic functions, such as engaging in self-care practices, completing tasks, and exercising impulse control. In some cases, you may also experience impaired motor skills and exhibit unusual bodily movements.

Negative Symptoms

Negative symptoms indicate the inability to engage in normal functioning. These symptoms may include negative affect, loss of speech, diminished interest in people and activities, and self-neglect.

Symptoms of schizophrenia exist on a continuum, and emerge slowly over time. For men, symptoms typically become apparent in the teenage years, while for women they begin later.

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Schizophrenia and Addiction

Experts estimate that approximately half of people with schizophrenia are also suffering from a co-occurring substance use disorder, and people with schizophrenia are four times more likely than the general population to become addicted to drugs. The reasons for this are complex, multiple, and often overlapping.

The extreme distress caused by the illness causes many to seek relief through recreational drug use, allowing them a temporary reprieve from disturbing symptoms. Simultaneously, it is believed that people with schizophrenia may have a biological vulnerability to drug abuse, and research suggests that certain drugs have a greater impact on people with the illness than they do on healthy individuals, increasing the potential for addiction. Although drug use is not believed to trigger schizophrenia, it may aggravate symptoms, and chronic drug abuse can augment the severity of the illness.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Schizophrenia is a chronic illness, but this does not mean that it is untreatable; with proper care, many people with schizophrenia are able to lead full, stable, and productive lives. But when schizophrenia is accompanied by drug addiction, what constitutes proper care becomes more complex, requiring specialized dual diagnosis treatment.

Dual diagnosis treatment combines modern, evidence-based therapies designed to address both chronic and acute symptoms of mental health disorders and addiction. In order to optimize the efficacy of treatment, clinicians must tailor care to the unique symptoms and strengths of each person, ensuring that all interventions are meaningful and relevant to the individual. The most effective therapeutic modalities for schizophrenia and addiction include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Psychodynamic Therapy
  • Experiential Therapy
  • Holistic Therapies
  • 12-step support groups

Pharmacological treatments are almost always an integral part of treatment for people with schizophrenia. Unfortunately, medications used to treat this condition have earned a bad reputation, and some people are reluctant to try them. Many of these fears are unfounded; by working with an experienced psychiatrist who can design a personalized treatment plan, psychotropic medications can provide real relief from psychiatric distress with minimal side effects.

While medication was once considered the mainstay of schizophrenia treatment, we now know that psychosocial supports can play a significant role in reducing symptoms and improving long-term outcomes. For people who have co-occurring addiction, these supports are essential. By having the opportunity to explore your schizophrenia, your addiction, and their relationship with each other, you can develop greater insight into your experiences and remove obstacles standing in the way of your recovery. With the support of compassionate clinicians and peers, you are able to gain increased self-awareness and concrete skills that improve your quality of life and give you meaningful alternatives to drug use.

Because schizophrenia often has a deep impact on your relationship with loved ones, dedicated family programs are often an invaluable part of the treatment process. Through psychoeducation, your family can come to understand schizophrenia in a new light and, together, you can develop strategies for moving forward as a team to increase your chances of future success.

If you would like more information about schizophrenia and addiction treatment, or have any questions about dual diagnosis treatment, we encourage you to contact us anytime. We are always available to offer support and guidance to help you find emotional and cognitive stability and lasting freedom from addiction.