Psychoactive drugs can dramatically affect brain function. Even alcohol, a popular recreational substance, can affect perception. Plus, other drugs, such as psychedelics, can significantly alter your state of consciousness. But can drugs cause mental health conditions such as schizophrenia?
The question of whether drugs directly cause mental health disorders has been examined in several studies. Mental health disorders, especially schizophrenia, may be linked to drug use, according to many studies. Are drugs directly responsible for mental illnesses like schizophrenia, or do they cause side effects that only temporarily mimic their symptoms?
Learn about the relationship between drug abuse and schizophrenia and what can be done to treat psychotic symptoms that are connected to drug use.
What Is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a mental health disorder characterized by psychosis along with other symptoms. Psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia affect people’s perception of reality. Schizophrenia can lead to hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thoughts and behavior that interfere with daily life. Treating this condition is often a lifelong commitment.
Globally, 20 million people suffer from schizophrenia. As a result of the stigma surrounding the condition, those who have it are less likely to seek help. Schizophrenia sufferers receive inadequate care in nearly 70 percent of cases.
Many people turn to drugs to cope with their symptoms. According to BMC Psychiatry, roughly 11.9% of people with schizophrenia have comorbid substance abuse disorder.
What Are the Symptoms of Schizophrenia?
Various behavioral, thinking, and emotional problems are associated with schizophrenia. Symptoms can vary widely from person to person. The condition is associated with many symptoms, and it’s possible for two people to have distinct experiences with the same diagnosis. It is also possible for people to experience different symptoms when using drugs. Schizophrenia is characterized by the following symptoms:
- Delusions. Delusions are strong convictions about things that aren’t true or are highly illogical. As an example, it is common for people with delusions to believe they’re famous, in love, or being watched.
- Hallucinations. Hallucinations involve seeing, hearing, and experiencing things that aren’t actually there and others can’t perceive. Schizophrenia sufferers experience hallucinations as real scenarios.
- Disorganized thinking and speech. Schizophrenia impairs rational and coherent thinking, often referred to as disorganized thinking. Disorganized speech can result from this. Word salad occurs when someone strings meaningless words together. In some cases, answers to questions with unrelated information are given.
- Abnormal behavior. Symptoms of this disorder include childlike behavior, unpredictable agitation, resistance to instructions, strange posture, excessive movements, or a complete lack of reaction. It is also difficult for the person to focus on goals, making task completion difficult for them.
- Negative symptoms. Negative symptoms refer to symptoms that are characterized by a lack of normal function. An individual may lack emotion, avoid eye contact, rarely change their facial expression, and speak monotonously. It is also possible for them to neglect personal hygiene, lose interest in activities they once enjoyed, and withdraw from family and friends.
There is a wide range of severity and type of symptoms. Symptoms may fluctuate in intensity and then disappear. In spite of that, some symptoms may always exist.
What Causes Schizophrenia?
Despite extensive research into schizophrenia, its causes remain unknown. According to researchers, your brain chemistry, genetics, and the environment all play a role in developing this condition. In addition to glutamate and dopamine, natural brain chemicals can contribute to the development of the disease.
Schizophrenia’s exact causes remain unknown despite years of research. According to mental health professionals, the condition is caused by a combination of genetics, environment, and brain chemistry. Several risk factors may also contribute to schizophrenia development, including:
- Teenagers and young adults who use mind-altering (psychoactive or psychotropic) drugs.
- Exposure to malnourishment, toxins, or viruses during pregnancy or birth.
- Schizophrenia in your family
According to neuroimaging studies, schizophrenia patients have a different brain structure and central nervous system than those without it. This suggests that schizophrenia is a brain disease, although researchers are unsure what causes the differences.
Do Drugs Cause Schizophrenia?
It’s true that many substances can cause psychosis, at least temporarily, but can drugs cause schizophrenia? Drug use is not believed to cause schizophrenia directly, but it may trigger or worsen mental health issues like psychotic disorders. People already susceptible to schizophrenia can be triggered by drugs such as amphetamines, LSD, cannabis, and cocaine.
The use of stimulants like amphetamines and cocaine can lead to psychosis, causing people who have recovered from psychosis to relapse. Cannabis use by teenagers and young adults increases their risk of developing schizophrenia later in life.
It’s possible for certain drugs to trigger schizophrenia in people predisposed to it but who have not experienced symptoms before. In such cases, it may feel like the disorder was caused by drug use alone. However, it’s likely that drug use was one of several contributing factors, along with family history, genetics, and developmental factors.
Drug-Induced Psychosis or Drug-Induced Schizophrenia
Hallucinations and delusions can occur as a result of drug-induced psychosis, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). A hallucination occurs when we see, hear, or feel something that isn’t real, while illogical and untrue beliefs are called delusions. These symptoms can occur as symptoms of schizophrenia, but they may also appear after drug use.
It is not always drug use that triggers or causes psychotic episodes. Psychosis that occurs before the use of drugs is not considered drug-induced. It is likely that the person’s condition was not caused by drug use if their symptoms persist after they have stopped using drugs and are not experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
Drug use does not seem to cause schizophrenia. People with schizophrenia can experience schizophrenic episodes if they abuse substances. Drug abuse can trigger undiagnosed schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia and Drug Use
People already susceptible to schizophrenia may experience symptoms as a result of drug abuse or misuse. Relapses in schizophrenia symptoms may occur in substance users being treated for and recovering from the disease. However, a relapse or increase in symptoms can also occur without the use of drugs or alcohol.
According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, a psychotic episode’s length distinguishes schizophrenia from drug-induced psychosis. It has been found that those who develop schizophrenia after drug-induced psychosis are already genetically susceptible to the disease.
Drugs do not cause schizophrenia. Schizophrenic episodes can, however, be triggered by them. There is no genetic susceptibility to schizophrenia for people who experience drug-induced psychosis and do not go on to develop the disorder.
A stigma surrounds schizophrenia, and it is widely misunderstood. Research shows that drugs are not the root cause of it, even though drugs can trigger it. Drugs are often used by those suffering from mental health issues as a means of coping, causing their symptoms to worsen or return. Because of this, treating schizophrenia and drug addiction is crucial to a full recovery.
Which Drugs Cause Psychosis?
Several drugs are associated with psychotic symptoms like hallucinations, although it’s not clear if drugs can cause psychotic disorders. For instance, stimulants can cause psychotic symptoms for a short time, but other drugs can worsen already existing psychotic conditions.
Some people can develop psychosis after taking psychoactive drugs. Psychological problems can also be aggravated by these drugs, as they can cause symptoms similar to schizophrenia.
Psychosis is commonly associated with the following drugs:
Benzodiazepines and alcohol are depressants that don’t necessarily cause psychotic symptoms. Nevertheless, they can worsen depression and lead to depressive disorders. It is also possible to experience delirium and hallucinations when withdrawing from these drugs.
It can be dangerous to quit cold turkey once you have developed a chemical dependence on depressants. In delirium tremens (DTs), you may experience heart palpitations, panic, confusion, delusions, and hallucinations.
Several stimulants, including cocaine, methamphetamine, and amphetamines, can cause what is called stimulant-induced psychosis. This is when stimulant overuse can cause psychotic symptoms similar to those seen in schizophrenia. People who don’t have a psychotic disorder will likely only experience symptoms until the drug wears off. Schizophrenia and chronic psychosis can also result from regular stimulant use in people with a predisposition to it.
Delusions and hallucinations are common side effects of psychedelic drugs like DMT (N, N-Dimethyltryptamine) and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide). These symptoms are usually temporary, but they can last for a long time in some cases. People with a predisposition to schizophrenia may experience long-lasting symptoms that are triggered by the use of a psychedelic drug.
Marijuana is unique in that it affects different people in different ways. Some people experience depressive symptoms, while others experience stimulating symptoms.
It isn’t common for marijuana to cause psychosis. There has been evidence that it can cause psychosis in some people and worsen the symptoms of those with psychotic disorders.
The Connection Between Schizophrenia and Drugs Use
Psychoactive drugs can have powerful effects on the mind, to the point where many drug users worry that it may lead to mental health disorders like schizophrenia. The connection between mental health and drug use is strong. People with severe mental health conditions often self-medicate with drugs, but could those drugs be creating their symptoms? Managing schizophrenia is a lifelong process.
If left untreated, schizophrenia can lead to severe issues that affect every aspect of your life. There are many complications associated with schizophrenia, including suicidal thoughts, homelessness, and many other problems. It is possible for your mental health to deteriorate without adequate treatment, and you may also develop other mental problems like anxiety and depression.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that schizophrenia affects 20 million people worldwide. Education and employment performance are affected by schizophrenia, which is considered a potentially severe mental health issue that can lead to disability.
The condition increases the risk of dying early two to three times over the general population—often due to preventable physical diseases such as cardiovascular disease and infections ignored and untreated. There is still a significant stigma attached to the condition. Many people turn to drugs instead of treating this illness, despite its treatability.
Ninety percent of those with untreated schizophrenia live in low to middle-income countries, and nearly seven out of 10 do not receive the care they need. As a result of the lack of access to mental health care services in many of these regions, this has become a significant issue. Despite having access to care, those with the condition seek care less often than the general population.
Schizophrenia affects how individuals interpret reality. In addition to delusions and hallucinations, it can cause disordered thinking or behavior that can impair typical functioning. Schizophrenia can be disabling in many cases.
It is also extremely common to use illicit drugs among people with schizophrenia. A 2010 study published in BMC Psychiatry shows that nearly 11.9% of those with the illness also suffer from drug addiction or abuse. About 25 percent of patients had cannabis use disorder.
Treating Drug Addiction and Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia can also be complicated by substance use disorders. In addition to genetics and psychological factors, substance use disorders and schizophrenia share many significant links. It is possible for both disorders to have similar genetic roots. The likelihood of experiencing an addiction at some point in your life increases if you have a genetic link, like parents or grandparents who have substance use disorders.
It is possible for the two disorders to aggravate each other and become interdependent when they occur at the same time. Those with co-occurring substance use disorders and schizophrenia will need to seek treatment that addresses both conditions. However, in cases of severe schizophrenia, the condition will need to be stabilized before other treatment options are effective. This usually involves antipsychotic medications.
What Is Dual Diagnosis?
Addiction treatment that combines substance abuse treatment with co-occurring mental health problems like schizophrenia is known as dual diagnosis treatment. Various reasons contribute to the overlap between mental health problems and addictions. The causes of both are similar, such as genetics, environment, and development. In some cases, one disorder can increase the likelihood of the other.
However, pinpointing the cause of a disorder can be challenging. The use of drugs can sometimes trigger preexisting or dormant mental illnesses. In many cases, mental health issues lead to people self-medicating, which is when they use drugs to treat mental health symptoms without seeking medical help.
People who self-medicate often think they need the drugs to feel normal, which can lead to psychological dependence. As a result of frequent use, chemical dependence and addiction develop.
Traditionally, mental health disorders and substance abuse problems were treated separately or not at all. When psychological issues are too difficult to manage, people may be turned away from substance abuse treatment. In the case of schizophrenia, treating addiction can be extremely challenging if the mental illness is left untreated.
There may be difficulty in achieving progress in treatment due to the interdependence of the two disorders. You may experience a relapse after completing treatment if you only focus on addressing one of these disorders. Drug use can also worsen schizophrenia symptoms if schizophrenia is not treated along with a substance use disorder.
The ideal treatment would address both issues at the same time. This will allow progress to be made without one disorder hindering the other.
Simultaneously Treating Schizophrenia and Drug Addiction
As with all addiction treatment, dual diagnosis treatment needs to be based on your individual needs rather than trying to fit you into a predetermined plan. In cases of co-occurring mental health issues, no two treatment plans should look the same.
An intake and assessment process is conducted when you first enter treatment to determine what level of care is right for you. As part of the treatment plan, you will have the opportunity to meet with your therapist regularly.
A number of therapy options can be used to treat addiction and schizophrenia. It has been shown that behavioral therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), can help both disorders. It is possible to identify high-risk situations that can lead to relapse using CBT for addiction. In addition, it can be used to develop relapse prevention strategies. When it comes to schizophrenia, CBT can assist in identifying symptoms and triggers of the illness.