Substance abuse is a common concern of the family and friends of people with schizophrenia. Since some people who abuse drugs may show symptoms similar to those of schizophrenia, people with schizophrenia may be mistaken for people “high on drugs.”
While most researchers do not believe that substance abuse causes schizophrenia, people who have schizophrenia often abuse alcohol or drugs, and may have particularly bad reactions to certain drugs.
Substance abuse can reduce the effectiveness of treatment for schizophrenia. Stimulants (such as amphetamines or cocaine) may cause major problems for patients with schizophrenia, as may PCP or marijuana. In fact, some people experience a worsening of their schizophrenic symptoms when they are taking such drugs. Substance abuse also reduces the likelihood that patients will follow the treatment plans recommended by their doctors.
Schizophrenia and Nicotine
The most common form of substance use disorder in people with schizophrenia is nicotine dependence due to smoking. While the prevalence of smoking in the U.S. population is about 25 percent to 30 percent, the prevalence among people with schizophrenia is approximately three times as high.
Research has shown that the relationship between smoking and schizophrenia is complex. Although people with schizophrenia may smoke to self-medicate their symptoms, smoking has been found to interfere with the response to antipsychotic drugs. Several studies have found that schizophrenia patients who smoke need higher doses of antipsychotic medication.
Quitting smoking may be especially difficult for people with schizophrenia, because the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal may cause a temporary worsening of schizophrenia symptoms. However, smoking cessation strategies that include nicotine replacement methods may be effective. Doctors should carefully monitor medication dosage and response when patients with schizophrenia either start or stop smoking.
Mental Health, N. (2006). Schizophrenia and Substance Abuse. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 20, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/schizophrenia-and-substance-abuse/000710
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
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