If you or a loved one who has schizophrenia also has a substance abuse problem, then you know that life can be tough. Understanding more about your schizophrenia and its impact on your substance abuse may be the right motivator to help you get well. There are specialized treatment centers that are designed to treat both conditions at once. Getting help is the first step in living the best life that you can live now and looking forward to even brighter days in the future.

What Is Schizophrenia?

Typically diagnosed in the late teenage years through age 30, schizophrenia is a serious mental health problem in which people are unable to distinguish reality from hallucinations. Diagnosis often occurs after a person’s first episode of psychosis. Approximately 0.25% and 0.64% of people have been diagnosed with this mental health disorder.

What Are Some Signs of Schizophrenia?

There are many different symptoms of schizophrenia. Generally, researchers divide them into three distinct categories.

Psychotic Symptoms
These symptoms cause an impaired relationship with reality, and they include:
• Changes in vision, hearing, smell, touch, and taste
• Abnormal thinking
• Hallucinations
• Paranoia
• Irrational fears
• Disorganized speech

Negative Symptoms
These symptoms are the result of schizophrenia, and they include:
• Reduced motivation
• Social withdrawal
• Diminished feelings of pleasure
• Difficulty showing emotions
• Reduced speaking

Cognitive Symptoms
These symptoms make it difficult for people with schizophrenia to learn new things. Symptoms include:
• Problems concentrating
• Difficulties using information immediately
• Trouble focusing

What Causes Schizophrenia?

Generally, the causes of schizophrenia can be divided into three broad categories. There is often overlap between the types.

Brain Structure and Chemistry
People with schizophrenia often have physical differences in their brains compared to the general population, including smaller volume in the hippocampus, amygdala, thalamus, nucleus accumbent, and intracranial space and larger pallidum and ventricle volumes. It is believed that the neurotransmitters work differently in people with schizophrenia than in the general population. These changes that may happen sometime before birth or through puberty and may set off schizophrenia.


A second factor that may lead to the development of schizophrenia is genetics. Schizophrenia often runs in families. Over 250 genes can play a role in determining if a person has schizophrenia, and scientists do not understand how they work together. Scientists are studying to see if changes in whole-exome sequencing in the DNA can cause schizophrenia.

Scientists also believe that changes in 17 different chromosomes may lead to essential clues on what causes schizophrenia. Chromosome 22 is thought to contain over 500 genes with half coming from the mother and half from the father. Changes in these genes may be the cause of schizophrenia. Other genes that may hold vital clues include:
• ABCA13
• ATK1
• C4A
• DRD2
• MIR137
• SYN2


Scientists think that genetics and the environment often combine to cause schizophrenia. Scientists believe many different environmental factors can lead to schizophrenia. Those factors can be divided into different phases of a person’s life.

Complications with delivery seem to increase the odds of developing schizophrenia as do prenatal or postnatal infections. People who develop schizophrenia are also more likely to have come from a mom who was stressed or who did not receive adequate nutrition while pregnant. People born in the winter or spring have a 5-8% higher risk of developing schizophrenia. There is a six-fold increase in the rate of schizophrenia if the father died while the mother was pregnant. Those born to mothers who had an emergency, such as a significant flood or war, while pregnant are also at a higher risk.

During childhood, other common factors have been identified that may cause schizophrenia to develop. While the evidence needs further investigation, there is evidence that being abused as a child can be a contributing factor to developing schizophrenia later in life. Children who were adversely raised also show a higher incidence of schizophrenia. Scientists have studied twins growing up in different homes. Those that were raised in outstanding environments are less likely to develop schizophrenia than those who were raised where food and good healthcare were not present. People receiving head injuries during their formative years were at a higher risk of developing schizophrenia.

People’s environments as adults can also cause schizophrenia, according to researchers. The incidence of schizophrenia is higher among migrants than the general population. This may be due to many different factors, including feeling different and a lack of healthcare and nutritious meals. People who live in large urban centers are more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than those in rural areas. In people diagnosed earlier in life than age 20, traumatic life events often happen shortly before a person is diagnosed.

Is There a Link Between Schizophrenia and Substance Use?

Up to 50% of people diagnosed with a substance use issue are also diagnosed with schizophrenia. Men are more likely to be diagnosed with a substance abuse mental illness and schizophrenia than women. Males who are younger and who have obtained a lower education level are more likely to be diagnosed with a substance use mental illness along with their schizophrenia.

Many people with schizophrenia turn to substance abuse to try to cope with their issues. Often, people attempt to use drugs and alcohol to deal with the side effects of medications given to them to treat their schizophrenia. Others use drugs or alcohol to feel better about their negative and antisocial behaviors. Chronic stress is an often-cited reason for turning to drugs and alcohol, and it can be a factor that brings on schizophrenic behavior. Substance use and schizophrenia often affect the same areas of the brain, which can lead to effects being felt more strongly when both are present in a person’s life.

There may be medical and environmental factors that play a significant role in developing schizophrenia and addiction. The same gene variants causing schizophrenia can also lead to substance use. Scientists are starting to uncover a link between genetic sequences that may be present in schizophrenia and a higher risk of cocaine dependence, heavy opioid use, and cannabis craving. One’s environment can cause epigenetic mechanisms to read and to act on genes without changing the actual gene pattern.

Cocaine and Schizophrenia

People with schizophrenia who are also addicted to cocaine have a higher suicide rate, experience more hospitalizations, and are less compliant with treatment. Many use cocaine to overcome the extrapyramidal side effects of antipsychotic drug treatment. These effects often include tremors, slurred speech, the inability to stay still, continually performing slowly, repetitive movements, anxiety, distress, and paranoia. These individuals may also use cocaine to overcome a defect in dopamine-mediated reward circuits. This circuit causes people to feel rewarded when they do the right thing.

Learn to Reduce Stress

Doctors and counselors can help people learn to modify their environments to reduce the stress that causes substance use. Those same stress factors can increase schizophrenic episodes.

Contact NFA Behavioral Health

If you are struggling to cope with your symptoms, reach out to NFA Behavioral Health about co-treatment for schizophrenia and substance use. Sitting on 17 beautifully wooded acres near Canterbury, New Hampshire, you will love the well-kept facility. A low patient-to-staff ratio ensures that you get the attention that you need to learn new skills to help you thrive without addiction.

While you must make the first move, there are many reasons to work with NFA Behavioral Health if you are a person with schizophrenia and have a substance use disorder.

The experienced staff offers you outstanding one-on-one counseling that can help you identify what has led to your substance use, give you the support you need during withdrawals, and help you learn new coping techniques. The feedback that you get and the new skills that you learn will set you up for success after you leave.

Process groups are designed to help you identify the triggers in your life that have led to your substance use. These same triggers may be making your schizophrenia worse because both often work on the same parts of the brain. You will learn what others are doing to help themselves and make friends that you can count on to have your back for the rest of your life.

Treatment for Co-occurring Mental Disorders

There is an inseparable connection between substance abuse and schizophrenia. The great news is that there is treatment available to help you with both. For example, many second-generation antipsychotics may help control your substance abuse and schizophrenia. When you work with a team of professionals who are used to treating co-occurring mental disorders, you can figure out together which treatment plan is right for you. Our focus on healing mind, body and spirit allows you to explore meditation and yoga so that you can reconnect with your true self, and more traditional forms of therapy are also available. Whichever you choose, you will find yourself accepted as a unique individual. Our center’s smaller, more personal setting lets us truly get to know you.

People with schizophrenia often have medical issues with the part of their brains that helps the general population feel rewarded. Through motivational interviewing, counselors will help you figure out what makes you feel good about yourself. Then, they will help you set goals that will let you feel successful. It is common for many people to feel ambivalent about getting treatment when they first enter. Our counselors understand that and will help you figure out the process to live a healthy and happy life that is right for you.

Since schizophrenia and its impact on your life may have left you struggling to read and write, our counselors are professionals at adapting things to your cognitive abilities. They are capable of teaching in several different ways so that you can learn new coping skills in a way that is right for you based on your abilities.

Schizophrenia often affects your motivation, and when you first enter treatment, you may not be very motivated to live a life without illegal substances. By the end of your time at NFA Behavioral Health, you will be taught how to feel like a valuable member of society with essential attitudes and skills to share. Then, you will be prepared to go on with your life feeling better about yourself and valuing what makes you a unique individual.

If you or a loved one with schizophrenia needs help, contact NFA Behavioral Health today. You will love the individualized treatment plan. Many fun outings are planned to give you time to relax in the community. You can also soak in the quiet of the environment surrounding this treatment center as you learn to manage your schizophrenia-related substance use.