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Schizophrenia & Substance Abuse

Learn about the link between schizophrenia and substance abuse from psychiatrist Jeanie Tse and schizophrenic Anthony Newton in this Howcast video.


- Jeanie: We're here to talk to you about substance abuse and schizophrenia. Over 50 percent of people who have schizophrenia experience substance use or abuse at some point in their lives. And it generally leads to more negative outcomes including homelessness, incarceration, violence, and sometimes suicide. So, it's a serious issue for people with schizophrenia to address their risk of substance use.

Substance use sometimes mimics the effects of schizophrenia as well. Certain substances make you hallucinate. Certain substances make you paranoid and disorganize your thoughts and behavior so that it can look like schizophrenia. And there's increasing evidence that substances, especially marijuana, can trigger an earlier onset of schizophrenia in people who are at risk. So, Anthony, can you tell us a little bit about how to prevent substance use and how to address it and if that's an issue?

- Anthony: Being a person that was formerly a drug abuser and an active alcoholic, I do no think that it is wise to self medicate on drugs and alcohol having a mental diagnosis. I know in the media it's very popular to dabble. People want to be "the cool person", or the "hip" person. The state of thought is very fragile so I do think that a lot of thought should be put into whether or not a person should self medicate with drugs and alcohol. And if they know the diagnosis, if they even think they have one.

First, they have to get diagnosed by a professional because schizophrenia does cloud thinking, so you can imagine not being treated for, or being on medication, and then all of a sudden you're abusing drugs and alcohol. And it's all in order to escape from your current reality of thinking. It's just too painful.

So, I do not think that using drugs and alcohol will not attribute anything towards having schizophrenia. It'll only deter and destroy you one day at a time. And you mentioned the key things. There's incarceration, there's homelessness, there's poverty, there's drug addiction, alcohol addiction. There is no cure for mental illness, number one. So because there is no cure for it we must use the signs that is available to us.

- Jeanie: How would you recommend people go about achieving recovery from substance use?

- Anthony: I think that they should do research. I think that there are a lot of organizations, there are a lot of groups, there are a lot of books, there are 12-step groups. There is abstinence. But, it's best to do it amongst a group of people.

- Jenie: Support is important?

- Anthony: Support is very important. This is a disease that wants to keep us in isolation, wants to keep us alone. That way, you're cut off from love. You're cut off from being able to care for yourself and self care. And socializing can be an asset in the realm of schizophrenia. Socializing gets us outside of our self and helps us to love someone else as well as love our selves.

- Jeanie: There's some medications, too, that can be helpful for people who want to stop using substances and are having trouble with it, that help with reducing alcohol use, that help with reducing the cravings for different substances. So, if you have schizophrenia and substance use is an issue for you, definitely like Anthony said, the 12-step groups, the detoxification and rehabilitation programs, lots of support, and maybe some medications, you may even talk to your doctor about that, can be helpful.

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