For many people, it’s not clear what exactly causes schizophrenia. This is doubly true when discussing drug-induced schizophrenia, which is a common phenomenon that is often misunderstood. Moreover, there is also a good deal of confusion about the differences between drug-induced psychosis vs schizophrenia.
That’s why we’re going to give you a complete overview of schizophrenia and how it relates to drug abuse. Keep reading for drug-induced schizophrenia symptoms, causes, treatments, and more!
What Is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a chronic mental health disorder that distorts a person’s view of reality, usually through delusions or hallucinations. This can lead to unusual or unpredictable behavior, which has caused a lot of the stigma around schizophrenia. However, it’s important to know that the overwhelming majority of people with schizophrenia are no more dangerous than anyone else. In fact, people with schizophrenia are far more likely to be abused than to abuse anyone. And in cases of drug-induced schizophrenia, substance abuse can lead to and worsen these perceptions.
Typically, symptoms of schizophrenia first appear when an individual is in their late teens to late 20s. Unfortunately, the symptoms of schizophrenia make it harder for people to be diagnosed, since they may struggle to understand why their thoughts feel so distorted.
For example, someone who has difficulty organizing their thoughts and often goes through periods where they lack motivation or feel depressed might not even realize that they have schizophrenia. But when symptoms persist, and they start to experience more severe symptoms (such as hallucinations, disorganized speech, and delusions), they or someone close to them may encourage them to seek professional mental health treatment.
Causes of Schizophrenia and Schizophrenic Episode Triggers
Like other mental health conditions, identifying the causes of schizophrenia is difficult. This is because many causes can overlap, like someone with a family history of schizophrenia using illicit drugs as a teenager. While it’s difficult to pinpoint any one thing that causes schizophrenia, research suggests that it may have several possible causes.
- Genetics: There isn’t a single genetic variation that causes schizophrenia, but individuals with close relatives with the condition are significantly more likely to develop schizophrenia.
- Brain Chemistry: Individuals who suffer from problems with dopamine and glutamate may be more likely to develop schizophrenia.
- Environment: Some research suggests that malnutrition or exposure to some viruses before birth increases the risk of developing schizophrenia.
- Substance Use: Some research also suggests that drug use in the teenage years and early adulthood increases the risk of developing schizophrenia. However, this should not be confused for drug-induced schizophrenia, which refers to a schizophrenic episode trigger.
Drug-Induced Psychosis vs. Drug-Induced Schizophrenia
Per the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), substance-induced psychosis involves prominent delusions and/or hallucinations. For clarity, delusions are false beliefs about the world (e.g., my partner is trying to poison me), whereas hallucinations are false sensory perceptions (e.g., I can feel bugs on my skin).
Specifically, the psychotic episode occurs during a period of drug use, intoxication, or withdrawal, and the disturbance is not better explained by something else not substance-induced. For example, if the psychotic symptoms precede the drug use, the psychotic episode wouldn’t be considered drug-induced psychosis. Additionally, if the delusions and/or hallucinations continue for a substantial amount of time after the individual has stopped using drugs and they are no longer in the acute withdrawal phase, it’s probable that the individual is not experiencing a substance-induced psychotic episode.
Drug-induced schizophrenia, on the other hand, is a bit of a misnomer. Research does not suggest that drug use actually causes schizophrenia, particularly in adults. Rather, drug-induced schizophrenia refers to schizophrenic episodes that are triggered by substance use. It should be noted that drug-induced schizophrenia can only happen to someone who already has schizophrenia, although it may be undiagnosed until the drug-induced episode.
Drug Use Does Not Cause Schizophrenia
Drug use, especially abuse or misuse, is said to trigger schizophrenia symptoms in people who are already susceptible to the mental illness. For example, many people who abuse methamphetamines experience psychotic symptoms due to their drug use. Drug-induced paranoia is common in these situations. But this only qualifies as drug-induced schizophrenia if there is an underlying case of schizophrenia. For people being treated for and recovering from earlier episodes of schizophrenia, this drug-induced psychosis can cause a relapse in those with schizophrenia.
This can happen to a person whether they know or don’t know that they have schizophrenia. For this reason, it can sometimes seem that people experiencing drug-induced schizophrenia symptoms develop the mental illness as a result of drug use. But really, they already had schizophrenia and may have even been showing symptoms of it, but this may not be apparent before a drug-induced schizophrenic episode.
According to The American Journal of Psychiatry, the DSM-5 distinguishes between schizophrenia and drug-induced psychosis in other ways as well, citing that the main difference is the length of the psychotic episode. Studies have also shown that individuals who experience substance-induced psychosis who then progress to schizophrenia are genetically vulnerable to schizophrenia.
Further, those individuals who suffer from drug-induced psychosis who do not progress to schizophrenia do not show the same genetic vulnerability to schizophrenia. The implication, therefore, is that drug use does not cause schizophrenia, but it can trigger schizophrenic episodes.
Getting Help After Drug-Induced Schizophrenia
The unfortunate reality is that schizophrenia is still very misunderstood and stigmatized. With better and more accurate information available, people suffering from this mental illness would be better able to get the proper treatment they need and deserve. While drug abuse can undoubtedly cause a schizophrenic episode, research does not suggest that drug abuse causes schizophrenia. This is what is meant by the phrase drug-induced schizophrenia.
But whether there is a drug-induced schizophrenic episode or not, there remains a significant percentage of people who suffer from schizophrenia also abuse drugs, which can cause schizophrenic symptoms to return or worsen. This fact makes dual diagnosis treatment so crucial for individuals suffering from both of these problems.
In order to help the individuals who genuinely need help, treatment must address both mental illness and drug use. This is exactly what dual diagnosis treatment offers. It’s well known that many individuals who suffer from mental illnesses self-medicate themselves with dangerous and harmful substances. For this reason, in order for an individual to successfully abstain from abusing drugs and alcohol, it’s necessary to treat the mental illness along with the substance abuse. If only the addiction is treated or just the mental illness is treated, it’s unlikely that a person would make a full recovery because there will be other lingering problems associated with the untreated condition.
At Georgetown Behavioral Hospital, we take a comprehensive approach and provide dual diagnosis treatment to those struggling with substance use disorders and mental illnesses, whether they suspect they may have a mental health issue or they’ve already experienced drug-induced schizophrenia. To learn more about our mental health program or to begin your recovery today, contact our admissions specialists at 937-483-4933 or use our confidential online contact form.