If you or someone you love develops schizophrenia, you might wonder if drugs had anything to do with the recent diagnosis. In many cases, those with severe mental health conditions like schizophrenia use drugs or alcohol to escape how they feel, but is it possible that drugs are the reason for their problems? Schizophrenia is a severe condition requiring lifelong management. Without adequate treatment, it can result in severe complications, such as suicide attempts, suicide, and homelessness. If you don’t seek treatment, it can worsen other conditions, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or anxiety disorders, but can drugs cause schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe disorder affecting 20 million people globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It’s considered a significant disability that affects occupational and educational performance. Even worse, a schizophrenia diagnosis means the individual is two to three times more likely to die early than the general population because of preventable physical diseases, such as infections someone ignores because of their illness and cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately, the stigma attached to the condition is widespread, meaning many people turn to drugs or alcohol instead of seeking help through the proper channels.
A staggering 70 percent of people with schizophrenia do not receive the necessary care, and 90 percent of those with untreated schizophrenia live in low-income countries. Mental health issues have become a significant issue in these regions due to a lack of mental health care services. Individuals with schizophrenia are less likely to seek care than the general population, even if they can access care, due to the widespread stigma.
A schizophrenia diagnosis means the individual will misinterpret reality, resulting in hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking that impairs standard functions. For most people, this is disabling, and many unhoused people you see battling mental health conditions have schizophrenia. Unfortunately, illicit drug use is common. Nearly 11.9 percent of individuals diagnosed with the disorder also abuse drugs or alcohol. One-quarter of those have a cannabis use disorder. Below, we’ll discuss the causes of schizophrenia and how the condition is treated.
Causes and Symptoms of Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is notorious for causing issues with emotions, behavior, and thinking. Although signs and symptoms vary from one person to the next, especially if they’re using drugs, the most common symptoms include an impaired ability to function, delusions, hallucinations, and disorganized thinking. Compared to other mental health conditions, schizophrenia is among the most severe.
- Delusions: A person who experiences delusions believes they’re being harassed or harmed, that they’re famous, or that someone they don’t know is in love with them. Obviously, none of that is true, as delusions are false beliefs that have no basis in reality.
- Hallucinations: Hallucinations are among the most notorious side effects of schizophrenia and can be even more intense if the person is using drugs. They happen when someone sees or hears something that doesn’t exist in reality. They occur in any of the senses, but hearing voices is the most common.
- Negative Symptoms: This refers to the inability to function normally. Individuals with these symptoms often neglect their personal hygiene and lack emotion, meaning they won’t change their facial expressions, make eye contact, or speak without emotion. They also lose interest in activities they once loved, can’t feel pleasure, and withdraw socially.
- Disorganized Thinking (Speech): Individuals with schizophrenia will endure disorganized thinking, which also translates into how they speak. Their communication is impaired, and when they respond, their answers often do not relate to the question asked. In many cases, speech includes putting together meaningless words, often referred to as “word salad.”
- Abnormal Motor Behavior: Abnormal motor behavior can manifest in many ways, such as childlike silliness or unpredictable agitation. The person’s behavior is not focused on a specific goal, so they cannot complete simple tasks. These behaviors include useless and excessive movement. They also will resist instructions or not respond at all.
Symptoms will vary, and there will be periods where symptoms are at their peak, followed by remission. Unfortunately, some of these symptoms will not go away, especially without treatment or if the individual is using drugs.
Can Drugs Cause Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a brain disease. However, there is no evidence linking drugs increasing the odds of developing schizophrenia or other related mental illness. Drugs like LSD, cannabis, cocaine, and amphetamines might trigger the symptoms of schizophrenia in those most vulnerable to developing it. Stimulants like amphetamines and cocaine can lead to psychosis, which causes relapse in those recovering from earlier psychotic episodes. Other research has found that teens and young adults who abuse marijuana increase the odds of developing schizophrenia later in adulthood.
What Causes Schizophrenia?
Researchers still don’t know schizophrenia’s precise cause. However, they believe it’s a combination of genetics, brain chemistry, and other environmental factors that cause this severe disorder. Specific neuroimaging studies have found there is a difference in brain structure and the central nervous system in those with schizophrenia compared to those who do not have the condition. However, researchers are unsure of the significance of this finding. Although the specific cause is unknown, some risk factors that increase the chances of developing the condition include the following:
- Pregnancy or birth complications, such as exposure to toxins or viruses
- Schizophrenia runs in the family
- Mind-altering drugs during teen years and early adulthood
What Are Drug-Induced Disorders?
According to a publication from the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, there are nine drug-induced disorders, and the toxic effects of substances can mimic mental illness in ways that are challenging to distinguish from mental illness. These include the following:
- Intoxication: This occurs when a person is under the influence of drugs or alcohol and exhibits euphoria, slurred speech, impaired thinking, and lowered inhibitions.
- Substance-induced depressive disorder: Individuals experience symptoms of worthlessness, sadness, depression, an inability to concentrate, low energy, and isolation brought on by substance abuse; they do not occur when substances are not present in the body.
- Withdrawal: These symptoms occur when someone dependent on a substance stops using them, including insomnia, depression, nausea, body aches, vomiting, and more.
- Substance-induced anxiety disorder: It presents similarly to anxiety disorder, but individuals will only experience symptoms of anxiety, panic, insomnia, and irritability while using substances.
- Substance-induced psychosis: This is characterized by hallucinations and delusions that are caused by substance abuse and not present without substances.
- Substance-induced bipolar disorder: Symptoms are similar to bipolar disorder, but manic highs and depressing lows are not present without substance abuse.
- Substance-induced sleep disorder: Insomnia and hypersomnia that do not occur without substance abuse.
- Substance-induced obsessive-compulsive disorder: This occurs when the person feels compelled to act out on unnecessary behaviors to soothe their anxiety when using substances.
- Substance-induced delirium: A condition marked by disorientation, mental confusion, and a loss of inhibitions caused by alcohol or drug misuse.
How Are Drug-Induced Disorders Treated?
If you experience a drug-induced disorder, it can feel terrifying and, in some cases, even hopeless. You might give up and withdraw because you don’t know what to do. Fortunately, treating schizophrenia and drug-induced disorders is possible. The first step to take is to seek out a medical detox program that helps remove all traces of drugs and alcohol from your system to help your body clear itself of the mind-altering substances.
Even if your schizophrenia isn’t drug-induced, seeking treatment can help you lead a meaningful life. Depending on the severity of your schizophrenia or drug abuse, you might require more intensive treatment. No matter the case, staying sober and attending therapy will change your life.
Treating drug-induced disorders and schizophrenia will consist of intense psychotherapy and medication. Depending on the severity of the conditions, it may require more than one medication, such as antipsychotics like Seroquel, Halcion, or Risperdal for drug-induced psychosis, in conjunction with antidepressants to manage depression. Drugs are assigned on a case-by-case basis, and the patient will be monitored in an inpatient treatment program.
Counseling is an essential part of a treatment program and will help you dig to the root of your problems. It’s possible your schizophrenia was drug-induced and will subside once you stop using substances, and therapy can help you understand what made you feel compelled to use, despite the negative symptoms. Either way, healing is possible, especially if you seek help.