Schizophrenia and addiction
Imagine a delicate spider web where each thread is interwoven with the others, creating a complex, interconnected structure. This web represents the intricate relationship between schizophrenia and addiction, and when one strand is disturbed, it affects the entire web, resulting in a tangled mess that can feel impossible to navigate. Unfortunately, co-occurring schizophrenia and addiction are very common, which makes managing and treating the two conditions extremely difficult. At Recovery Lighthouse, we have helped many people with schizophrenia successfully complete rehab and, as a knock-on effect of treatment, found that schizophrenia symptoms have also become easier to manage.
What is schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a severe and chronic mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels and behaves and in the UK alone, it approximately affects 1 in 100 people.
Schizophrenia was previously categorised into different forms, but in recent years, experts have shifted to viewing schizophrenia as a spectrum disorder like Autism. This approach allows for a more nuanced understanding of the condition and the wide range of symptoms and experiences of those affected.
What are the symptoms of Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is characterised by a range of symptoms including:
- Hallucinations: Hallucinations are false perceptions that can involve any of the five senses. People with schizophrenia may hear negative or threatening voices (auditory hallucinations), see things that are not there (visual hallucinations), or experience sensations on their skin (tactile hallucinations) that have no obvious cause.
- Delusions: Delusions are false beliefs that persist despite evidence that they are not true. For example, schizophrenia sufferers may have paranoid delusions, such as believing they are being watched or grandiose delusions, like believing they have special powers.
- Disorganised speech: This is when people find it hard to organise their thoughts and express them coherently. This often results in a “word salad” (jumbled, unintelligible speech), neologisms (inventing new words) or tangential speech (going off on unrelated tangents).
- Disorganised or catatonic behaviour: Disorganised behaviour is unpredictable or inappropriate actions, such as wearing clothes that are not suitable for the weather, neglecting personal hygiene or making odd or purposeless movements. Catatonic behaviour is a lack of movement or response to stimulation where a person appears rigid or unresponsive for extended periods of time.
- Negative symptoms: Negative symptoms refer to a reduction or absence of normal emotional and behavioural functions. People with schizophrenia may show a lack of emotion, difficulty experiencing pleasure, social withdrawal or a lack of motivation.
- Abnormal motor behaviour: This may include repetitive, purposeless movements, agitation, or unusual postures and gestures. These motor symptoms can be challenging to manage and can massively interfere with everyday tasks.
What causes schizophrenia?
The exact cause of schizophrenia remains unknown, but it is believed to be a combination of genetic, biological and environmental factors, including:
- Genetic predisposition
- Chemical imbalances in the brain
- Structural abnormalities in the brain
- Complications during pregnancy or birth
- Childhood trauma or abuse
- Substance abuse
What is dual diagnosis schizophrenia and addiction?
A dual diagnosis is when you have a mental health disorder and an addiction at the same time. Common forms of dual diagnosis schizophrenia and addiction include:
Schizophrenia and alcohol addiction…
People with schizophrenia may turn to alcohol as a means to self-medicate or escape from the distressing symptoms of their condition. However, alcohol can exacerbate symptoms, interfere with treatment and lead to alcohol use disorder.
Schizophrenia and drug addiction…
Drug addiction is another common co-occurring condition with schizophrenia. Sadly, chronic drug use can worsen schizophrenia symptoms and make it more difficult for people to stick to their treatment plans.
Schizophrenia and behavioural addiction…
Dual diagnosis schizophrenia and behavioural addictions, such as schizophrenia and video game addiction, are also common. Engaging in excessive behaviours can temporarily relieve the symptoms of schizophrenia but ultimately worsens the condition.
Why do schizophrenia and addiction so commonly co-occur?
There are several reasons why schizophrenia and addiction are frequently found together:
- Self-medication: Some people with schizophrenia may use drugs or alcohol to alleviate their distressing symptoms. However, this self-medication usually makes symptoms worse in the end and can quickly turn into an addiction.
- Impulsive behaviours: Schizophrenia can lead to impulsive or compulsive behaviours like excessive and risky substance use, increasing the chances of developing addictions.
- Emotional reactivity and instability: The emotional challenges associated with schizophrenia can also increase the likelihood of turning to substances or addictive behaviours to cope.
- Addictive schizophrenia medication: Some medications used to treat schizophrenia may be addictive, particularly if used for longer or in bigger doses than prescribed.
How are schizophrenia and addiction treated?
Treating co-occurring schizophrenia and addiction can be more challenging than addressing either condition alone, but Recovery Lighthouse is here to help you with your addiction, allowing you to cope with your mental health. However, before beginning rehab treatment at Recovery Lighthouse, it is essential that your schizophrenia is stable so that the symptoms do not jeopardise your treatment. Consult with your GP to initiate treatment and ensure stability, and then you can begin rehab treatment.
Some of the most effective therapies for treating addiction and schizophrenia include:
Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT)…
DBT is a specialised form of CBT that focuses on emotional regulation and personal growth. DBT offers several benefits, including:
- New mindfulness skills to help you manage intense emotions and reduce impulsive behaviours that contribute to addiction.
- Support in building and maintaining healthy relationships which can be particularly challenging for people with schizophrenia due to social withdrawal or communication difficulties.
- Individual therapy sessions and group sessions that provide ongoing support and reinforcement of those new skills to ensure long-term recovery.
Family therapy involves working with your family to address the impact of schizophrenia and addiction on you all.
Benefits of family therapy for schizophrenia and addiction sufferers include:
- A better understanding of schizophrenia and addiction which allows family members to provide more effective support during the recovery process.
- Improved communication between family members, fostering healthy relationships and reducing conflict that can exacerbate symptoms or lead to relapse.
- New coping strategies for the entire family to address the challenges of supporting a loved one with schizophrenia and addiction.
Challenges to overcome in rehab
People with schizophrenia and addiction may face unique challenges in rehab that therapists and rehab centres need to address. Two of the most common challenges are:
The stigma surrounding both schizophrenia and addiction can create significant barriers to recovery, including:
- Reluctance to seek help due to fear of judgement or discrimination from others.
- Feelings of shame or guilt which can lead to a negative self-image and low self-esteem.
- Isolation from social support networks, as you may avoid discussing your struggles with friends or family.
To overcome stigma-related challenges, rehab programmes can provide education on the nature of schizophrenia and addiction, promote self-acceptance and self-compassion and foster connections in group therapy with peers who share similar experiences.
Trust and communication…
Building trust and establishing open communication with therapists can be particularly challenging for people with schizophrenia due to:
- Paranoia or delusions that may cause suspicion or fear.
- Disorganised thinking or speech, making it difficult for people to express their thoughts, feelings or needs effectively.
- Difficulty interpreting social cues which can lead to misunderstandings or miscommunications.
To address these challenges, addiction therapists need to establish rapport and trust by maintaining a nonjudgmental, empathetic approach and using clear, straightforward communication. Incorporating family members or trusted support persons in the treatment process can also help to alleviate concerns and promote open communication.
The next step
Recovery Lighthouse is here to help you navigate the difficulties of addiction, even if you are living with schizophrenia. With expert care and evidence-based therapies, we can help you find hope and healing. So take the next step and reach out to Recovery Lighthouse today.