There is a strong relationship between schizophrenia and substance abuse but it may not be what you think. Some drugs, such as psychedelics, can mimic the symptoms of schizophrenia, but there is no research suggesting that they can cause the development of schizophrenia. Interestingly, people who suffer from this mental illness are far more likely than the general populous to develop a substance abuse problem.
This is a dilemma. A large percentage of schizophrenics are also dealing with a dual-diagnosis (also called comorbidity) of substance abuse. This kind of misuse of prescription medicine, abuse of street drugs, or addiction to alcohol or tobacco can cause serious complications during the treatment process. The use of these illicit substances can interfere with the medicine prescribed by psychiatrists, making them less effective or providing too high of a dosage, or having a harmful interaction such as making symptoms worse. Currently, as more states in the United States make marijuana legal for consumption, we may see more incidence of drug-induced psychosis and the development of what may have been latent schizophrenia, as new research is exposing.
Let’s look at how schizophrenia and addiction to harmful substances can affect the lives of those dealing with this severe psychological disorder.
Schizophrenia and Smoking
Unfortunately, people suffering with schizophrenia are addicted to nicotine, the active ingredient in tobacco, at a rate three times that of the general population. Specifically we are talking about upwards to 90 percent against the general population’s 30 percent! This is outrageous and presents the most widespread issue for those with schizophrenia. The relationship here is complex and it has been difficult to determine if there is some neurochemical cause for this. In addition to the normal health risks we face with smoking, it has been said that nicotine can decrease the effectiveness of antipsychotic medicines as well. Quitting can be very difficult as since the withdrawal symptoms can mimic and make schizophrenia symptoms much worse.
Schizophrenia and Marijuana
This topic is growing increasingly more alarming as more research is being completed. While it is accepted that most drugs cannot cause schizophrenia, it is seeming that the case might be different for marijuana. The Swedish Army performed a study of 50,000 people. Without delving too deeply here, the basic conclusion of this longitudinal study was that those where consumed large and consistent amounts of cannabis from the age 18 and onward were over 600% more likely to end up with a schizophrenia diagnosis over the following 15 years than the control group which did not partake in the use of the drug. This is huge. It has been estimated that around 10% of all schizophrenia cases can now be attributed or at least correlated to marijuana usage during these important developmental teen years.
Schizophrenia and Meth
It’s not absolutely clear yet, but without a doubt methamphetamine use, like any other substance, can cause psychosis in it’s users which includes hallucinations, paranoia, and delusions. Dr. Heather Keizer was quoted saying that “Methamphetamine changes the structure of the brain. It can be an “on-switch” for schizophrenia.” She says that what starts as a diagnosis of drug-induced psychosis ultimately never ceases after a year of abstinence and this becomes a diagnosis of schizophrenia. This is another indication of where research simply has to catch up and figure out what’s really going on.
These are just some of the more extreme cases where we have research to make claims for us. This is an ever-growing realm of study and new street drugs are invented constantly. Substance abuse counselors and researchers may never be able to catch up, honestly. But new data is released on the main substances, and we will release that here at Schiz Life as it becomes available.