Schizophrenia is a severe psychiatric disorder that affects the patient’s perception of reality. Originating from Greek words meaning “split mind,” people with schizophrenia may have visual or auditory hallucinations or delusional thoughts. They often suffer from paranoia, believing that others are talking about them or plotting to harm them.
People with schizophrenia may respond to the instructions of internal voices that tell them how to think or behave. Schizophrenia can cause disorganized thinking and make it hard to communicate thoughts to others. Hallucinations and delusions also can intrude on daily life, making it hard to hold down a job, maintain a relationship or have a family. However, many people with this disorder are able to lead fulfilling lives with ongoing psychiatric treatment to manage symptoms.
Who Is Affected by Schizophrenia?
About 1 percent of the American population meets the criteria for schizophrenia, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.1 It affects both men and women and usually manifests itself for the first time in teenagers or younger adults under the age of 30.2 It’s unusual for the disorder to appear in middle-aged or older adults who have never had symptoms of schizophrenia before.
In some places in the world, people with schizophrenia are admired spiritually due to the hallucinations; however, in the West, people who suffer from schizophrenia are often feared and marginalized. Many people with schizophrenia also struggle with maintaining stability and often find themselves addicted to drugs, homeless, unemployedor incarcerated, and the more severe the symptoms are, the less likely someone is to recognize a need for help.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Schizophrenia?
The symptoms of schizophrenia vary from one individual to another. Some individuals display disordered thought patterns, strange beliefs and odd body movements while others suffer from paranoia, agitation and intense fear. Some people remain very still for long periods of time and show no emotional reactions, a condition known as “catatonia.” Schizophrenic symptoms can be divided into three basic categories, including the following:
- Positive symptoms – Also known as psychotic symptoms, these are the obvious signs of separation from reality, like hearing voices, seeing things that aren’t there and speaking in odd ways.
- Negative symptoms – These symptoms reflect an absence of a normal behavior, such as social isolation, a flat affect or a lack of decision-making capabilities.
- Cognitive symptoms – These symptoms affect the way you think, remember or process information.3
When schizophrenia first appears,it may look like typical behavior for a young person. Teens are often moody, withdrawn and quirky by nature, and parents may assume that these behaviors are just an adolescent phase. A few of the red flags of schizophrenia include the following:
- Social isolation
- Trouble in classes at school
- Sleep disturbances4
Teenagers with a family history of schizophrenia are more likely to develop this psychotic disorder themselves.
What Causes Schizophrenia?
The exact cause of schizophrenia is still unknown, but research is pointing toward the following markers as influencing factors:
- Heredity – The incidence of schizophrenia is much higher in close family members.
- Brain chemistry – Imbalances in certain neurochemicals, like glutamate and dopamine, may be partly responsible for schizophrenia.
- Brain structure – Clinical studies indicate that there may be differences in the structural composition of the brain in people with schizophrenia.
- Environmental factors – Social stressors, childhood abuse or viral infections may contribute to the development of schizophrenia.5
As with many other mental health disorders, for patients suffering from schizophrenia, there are often many contributing factors to the onset of the illness.
What About Addiction and Schizophrenia?
Substance abuse is extremely common in people who suffer from schizophrenia. The two are even often confused because of similar side-effects and symptoms. Nearly half of those who meet the criteria for schizophrenia also have a substance use disorder.6 Substance abuse increases the risks of poverty, homelessness and social marginalization in those with schizophrenia. It also increases the danger of medical complications like respiratory infections, communicable diseases, liver and kidney problems and accidental injuries.
Addiction recovery can particularly challenging for those with schizophrenia, posing the following challenges:
- Low rates of compliance with treatment plans due to disordered thinking or paranoia
- Difficulty concentrating during counseling sessions or support groups
- Lack of access to affordable rehabilitation facilities
- Lack of convenient transportation
- Low motivation to continue with an extensive rehabilitation plan
Integrated treatment for co-occurring disorders offers hope for people with schizophreniawho struggle with addiction. In an integrated treatment program, both the symptoms of schizophrenia and the behaviors associated with substance abuse are addressed simultaneously to provide the best care for both conditions. Case management services are also available for clients who need referrals to community resources like affordable housing, transportation, job placement or medical care.
How Is Schizophrenia Treated?
Like diabetes or heart disease, schizophrenia is a chronic, long-term illness that usually requires lifetime symptom management. Although there’s no cure for this psychiatric disorder, many individuals with schizophrenia develop the ability to build meaningful, satisfying lives through ongoing treatment, notes the U.S. National Library of Medicine.7
Psychosocial therapy and medication are the core components of a treatment program for schizophrenia. While symptoms are under control, the client attends counseling sessions to help the patient adapt better to normal life. Two primary treatment modules are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which helps the client modify negative behaviors, and interpersonal therapy (IPT), which helps the client improve his or her relationships with others. The objectives of talk therapy sessions include the following:
- Gaining a better understanding of the illness
- Identifying thought patterns and behaviors that are harmful to the clients
- Discussing the stresses and social situations that trigger schizophrenic symptoms
- Developing effective coping skills for dealing with life’s stresses
Along with one-on-one therapy sessions, clients can benefit from counseling sessions with others who are living with schizophrenia. In these sessions, clients talk about their experiences, provide support and encouragement and discuss coping strategies for the real world.
Where Can I Get Help?
There are a wide variety of public and private resources available to individuals with schizophrenia and their families. Community-based mental health centers can provide valuable interventions like psychotherapy, pharmacological therapy, group support and crisis intervention at little or no cost to low-income patients and their loved ones.Another option for those struggling with schizophrenia is a residential treatment center where they can dedicate all their time and energy to health and wellness.
At The Oaks at La Paloma, we provide addiction treatment services to individuals with schizophrenia and other co-occurring mental health disorders. Our staff members have specialized training in both substance abuse treatment and the treatment of mental illness. Whether you’ve just discovered that a loved one has schizophrenia or you’re already dealing with the serious repercussions of mental illness, we encourage you to contact us to start the process of healing. Please call us today at our 24 hour, toll-free helpline to begin your healing process.
6 Volkow, N. “Substance Use Disorders in Schizophrenia—Clinical Implications of Comorbidity.” Schizophrenia Bulletin, NCBI, May 2009.Web. Accessed 25 August 2017.