Schizophrenia is a complex brain disorder that affects every aspect of your life, from the way you experience the world to the way you communicate with others and interact socially. The Greek translation of “schizophrenia” literally means “split mind,” referring to the fragmentation of thought and perception that characterize this serious psychiatric condition. Schizophrenia causes a distortion of reality, which is colored by hallucinations, delusional beliefs, and paranoid ideas. People with schizophrenia often have trouble organizing their thoughts or communicating in conventional ways. In severe cases, the disorder is so debilitating that it can become impossible to meet the demands of daily life.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, schizophrenia affects around 1 percent of adults in the United States, or just under 2.5 million people. A disproportionate number of these individuals also suffer from an alcohol or drug problem. The American Journal of Psychiatry estimates that about half of those with schizophrenia also abuse substances, most commonly alcohol and marijuana.
What Are the Signs to Look For?
Because schizophrenia expresses itself in different ways, it’s not always easy to identify this complex neurological disorder. The symptoms can range in severity from mild hallucinations and odd beliefs to full-blown delusions or catatonia (a non-responsive state). The signs of schizophrenia can be loosely divided into several categories:
- Psychotic symptoms. Psychosis is a state of mind in which your thoughts and perceptions are divorced from reality. These symptoms include visual or auditory hallucinations, delusional beliefs, or paranoid fears. Although psychosis is a hallmark sign of schizophrenia, it can also be a symptom of other disorders, such as depression, bipolar disorder, or schizoaffective disorder.
- Psychomotor effects. Schizophrenia can affect the nervous system as well as the psyche. People with schizophrenia may seem unusually clumsy or uncoordinated. They may make repetitive movements or display odd mannerisms. In catatonia, the individual can remain completely still or rigid for long periods of time.
- Social repercussions. Schizophrenia can make it difficult to communicate clearly with others. People with this disorder may speak or write in unusual ways, or have trouble understanding what other people are saying to them. They may appear emotionally flat, or react to everyday experiences in bizarre ways. Paranoia may make them suspicious or fearful of others, which can make it impossible to hold down a job or form relationships.
- Cognitive symptoms. As a neurological disorder, schizophrenia can affect the individual’s ability to learn or remember new information. The cognitive impact of schizophrenia can interfere with educational, professional, or interpersonal goals.
Who Is at Risk?
Schizophrenia has a devastating effect on the structure and function of the brain, yet its cause remains a mystery. The National Alliance on Mental Illness proposes that schizophrenia is caused by a combination of the individual’s heredity and his or her environment. Clinical studies indicate that schizophrenia runs in families, which suggests that your risk of having the disorder is higher if you have a parent, sibling, or other close relative who is schizophrenic.
The signs of schizophrenia usually appear for the first time in older teens or young adults between the ages of 15 and 30. Schizophrenic episodes are often precipitated by major life changes, such as a death in the family, a parent’s divorce, moving away from home, or starting college. The disorder can also be triggered by traumatic experiences such as military combat, an assault, or childhood abuse.
Does Substance Abuse Cause Schizophrenia?
Substance abuse can make the symptoms of schizophrenia worse and can greatly increase the risk of negative outcomes like hospitalization, incarceration, chronic unemployment, and homelessness. Although schizophrenia is not caused by substance abuse, the use of drugs or alcohol can aggravate the symptoms of this condition. For example, a study of 2,000 young people between the ages of 14 and 24 published in the British Medical Journal showed that cannabis users were more likely to display psychotic symptoms, and that continued use was associated with a higher risk of psychotic disorders like schizophrenia.
Is There Help for Schizophrenia?
There is currently no cure for schizophrenia, but there are several effective therapies that can help you manage the symptoms and lead a rewarding, meaningful life. When addiction is a factor, treatment must focus on helping the patient recover from both conditions. Therapeutic approaches for treating co-occurring schizophrenia and substance abuse include:
- Antipsychotic medications
- Intensive psychotherapy
- Individual and group substance abuse counseling
- Behavioral modification therapy
- Holistic modalities (yoga, massage, meditation)
- Stress reduction techniques
- Life skills classes
The individualized, cutting-edge treatment programs at Axis can address even the most challenging co-occurring conditions. To learn more about how we can help you or a loved one recover from addiction and mental illness, call our admissions team today.