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How Substance Abuse Can Lead To Schizophrenia

“Can you get schizophrenia from drugs?” At Tranquil Shores, we know that Schizophrenia is a mental health disorder where a person’s perception of reality is distorted. Most individuals who struggle with schizophrenia also have a substance abuse problem, which can lead to extreme behavior and even suicide. These people need specialized treatment programs that can effectively deal with the symptoms of schizophrenia as well as help them recover from addiction. At Tranquil Shores, we implement personalized recovery plans to meet each person’s needs.

What Is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a severe mental illness that affects how a person behaves, thinks, and feels. It causes major impairment in at least one of the major areas of a person’s life including self-care, relationships, and careers. The symptoms of schizophrenia usually begin to develop between the ages of 16 and 30 and affect more men than women.

Can Drugs Cause Schizophrenia?

Drugs do not directly cause schizophrenia, however, studies have shown drug misuse increases the risk of developing schizophrenia or a similar illness. It should be noted that certain drugs like amphetamines can induce schizophrenia-like side effects, but these side effects will be temporary. 

In cases where an individual uses drugs over a longer span of time, also known as addiction, some results of that drug use include altered neurological function. These irreversible effects can cause overactivity in your dopamine systems, and those effects can be compared so some symptoms of schizophrenia. So while drugs do not cause schizophrenia, they can have lasting schizophrenia-type effects with prolonged drug use. 

Signs and Symptoms of Schizophrenia

To be diagnosed with schizophrenia, a person will typically have two or more of the following signs and symptoms in a period of over one month.

– Delusions
– Hallucinations
– Disorganized speech
– Disorderly behavior
– Lack of emotional expressions, low motivation, and diminished speech

The symptoms will typically interfere with the person’s relationships, job, or self-care. The person’s level of interest must be lower than the time before the symptoms developed. This dysfunction must last for a minimum of six months, with the three main symptoms being present for at least one month continuously. The person may exhibit less acute symptoms during the other months, such as having bizarre beliefs.

How Schizophrenia & Addiction Build On Each Other

Specialists have known for years that drug addiction can be an escalated form of self-medication for mental illness. But now research is catching up to reveal that not only is addiction often evoked by mental instability, it has the potential to become the origin of various mental health disorders.

Research published in Milan at the Early Psychosis Association meeting last week illuminates the relationship between drug addiction and the early onset of schizophrenia.

“Our results illustrate robust associations between almost any type of substance abuse and an increased risk of developing schizophrenia later in life,” researchers concluded.

Schizophrenia is a chronic mental illness often passed down through a genetic chemical imbalance. The disease controls the thoughts and actions of the person it afflicts. Those with schizophrenia often hear voices that tell them what to do, which may lead to unfortunate consequences such as violence and cerebral entropy if left untreated. Symptoms of the disorder include losing touch with reality, hysteria, visual hallucinations, paranoid delusions, trouble focusing, memory loss, and decreased sensations of pleasure. All of which are also common symptoms of substance abuse.

This correlation is associated with the brain’s inability to release pleasure-inducing neurotransmitters such as dopamine and glutamate. When the brain becomes dependent on a powerful drug like heroin, the substance inhibits the mind’s ability to release gratifying neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and others. It fabricates a reward of euphoria that can only be achieved by using the drug. Once addiction has taken hold, it has the capability to alter the brain’s chemistry and cause irrevocable damage that may lead to mental health issues like depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

According to the research published in Milan, Italy, cannabis is 5.2 times more likely to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and alcoholism is 3.4 times more likely. Hallucinogens broaden the risks by 1.9 times.

Any diagnosis of a substance abuse disorder increases the dangers of developing the disease six times more than a person without an addiction. Maternal marijuana and alcohol abuse were also found to be inflating factors in the augmentation of a child’s schizophrenia. The research analysts concluded that the increase is prevalent “even 10 or 15 years after a diagnosis of substance abuse.”

A 2014 study by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 7.9 million Americans live with co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorders, nearing half of all drug addictions, which hovers around 20.2 million people.

Studies like these validate how much drug addiction is a mental health problem, and not a criminal justice issue.

Substance abuse also makes treatment for schizophrenia less effective. Using marijuana, cocaine and other drugs may see symptoms worsen or intensify. Despite the fact that schizophrenia is primarily known as a genetic disease, scientists emphasize that an individual’s environment plays a key role in the development of symptoms. Drug abuse and schizophrenia can go hand in hand in not helping with treatments.

A broken home, unstable emotional environments, childhood trauma, and other mental disorders like depression are all associated with the advancement of drug abuse and schizophrenia respectively.

Whether it’s the chicken or the egg that came first, both disorders need to be treated in order for the individual to have any chance at living a functional, productive life. Similarities between addiction and schizophrenia include both causes and effects, which begs the question: could a person with drug addiction just as easily develop schizophrenia instead? Unfortunately, the data is inconclusive.

What is the Main Cause of Schizophrenia?

No single gene is the direct cause of either substance abuse or schizophrenia. Instead, the combination of genetic makeup and environment is what results in schizophrenia as well as a predisposition for drug addiction and alcoholism.

With such analogous details, research is finally revealing what many addiction specialists already knew, that drug addiction and alcoholism can lead to the increased risks of cognitive diseases, but their relationship is yet to be fully explored.

Whether it’s schizophrenia, clinical depression, or chronic anxiety, those with coexisting substance abuse and psychological disorders can benefit from dual diagnosis mental health treatment. During the regimen, therapists and the individual work through the client’s past in order to whittle down to the root cause of dependence. If you need family information, don’t hesitate to reach out to find out about our programs.

Tranquil Shores is uniquely equipped with credentialed therapists to treat dual diagnoses. Call one of our counselors today at (727) 591-4119 or contact us online and reclaim your life!

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