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The Link Between Schizophrenia and Substance Abuse

Schizophrenia affects roughly two million Americans—about 1% of the U.S. population.¹ Of those individuals, almost half of them are also dealing with a substance use disorder.² For some, addiction may start as an attempt to self-medicate for their troubling symptoms. For others, it may be a separate issue that further triggers their schizophrenia. Whatever the case, both issues need to be treated properly to achieve the best outcome.

What Is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a brain disorder that can make it difficult for a person to tell reality from imagination. This can be very unsettling for the person, and it can have a serious impact on things like their work, school, or relationships. Depending on the severity of an individual’s symptoms, untreated schizophrenia can be debilitating, leaving the person extremely disconnected from reality and society.

Common symptoms of schizophrenia include:

  • Delusional thinking
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations, often hearing voices
  • Difficulty speaking – repeated words, gibberish
  • Poor, childlike motor skills
  • Catatonia – not moving or communicating

Alcohol, Drugs, and Schizophrenia

The reason why schizophrenia and addiction so often occur together is still largely unknown. Some researchers suspect a biological basis, while others put a greater emphasis on external risk factors like poverty and exposure. Regardless, the high rate of addiction among schizophrenia patients is a serious concern.

Drugs and alcohol cannot cause schizophrenia on their own, but they may trigger a case in someone who is already genetically predisposed. According to research, teens and young adults who regularly use cannabis are more likely than their peers to develop schizophrenia in adulthood.³

Certain substances appear to be more likely to trigger schizophrenia symptoms than others. These include:

  • Cannabis
  • Cocaine
  • LSD
  • Amphetamines

Schizophrenia patients tend to abuse cannabis and alcohol most often—three times more than the general population does.²

Drugs and alcohol can also increase the frequency and intensity of schizophrenia symptoms. This can be dangerous for the patient and those around them. For example, some individuals hear voices that order them to do bad or violent things (command hallucinations).⁴ If a person is dealing with both schizophrenia and alcohol abuse, such commands may be harder to resist.

Dual Diagnosis Schizophrenia and Addiction Treatment

Dual diagnosis treatment targets both the addiction and any co-occurring diagnoses that may play a role. While the standard rehab program may work for most, a person with a mental health condition like schizophrenia may need more specialized care that takes their unique symptoms and experiences into account. If underlying issues aren’t addressed, they may be more vulnerable to relapse.

At Adelante Recovery Center in Southern California, we offer tailored dual diagnosis treatment to help individuals with co-occurring schizophrenia and drug abuse issues. Through a combination of medical detox, professional therapy, 12-step programs, and other methods, we help clients with their mental health and substance use issues at the same time. Contact us today and discover how our dual diagnosis treatment center can help you.


  1. https://www.addictioncenter.com/addiction/schizophrenia/
  2. https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/ajp.2007.164.3.402
  3. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/schizophrenia/causes/#:~:text=Drug%20abuse,in%20people%20who%20are%20susceptible.
  4. https://ps.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.ps.51.10.1288

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If you or a loved one are in need of help with addiction, contact us today. Our professional and friendly addiction specialists are able to answer your questions and get things moving in the right direction.