Schizoaffective Disorder and Substance Abuse

schizoaffective disorder and substance abuse

Schizoaffective disorder is a mental health condition that causes the symptoms of schizophrenia and a co-occurring mood disorder like bipolar or depression. This means individuals with this condition may experience hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, mania, and depression. 

Because schizoaffective disorder is a combination condition, many people are initially misdiagnosed with either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. This mental health disorder is also less discussed, so mental health professionals often apply treatment methods from evidence-based bipolar or schizophrenia treatment tactics.

When it comes to schizoaffective disorder, it is common for someone to also suffer from a co-occurring substance use disorder. The combination of these conditions can complicate treatment, making it imperative for individuals struggling with schizoaffective disorder and substance abuse to attend a dual diagnosis treatment program. 

Symptoms of Schizoaffective Disorder

The symptoms of this condition can become severe, making close monitoring of symptoms to be extremely important. About 1 in 200 people develop schizoaffective disorder at some point in their lives.[1] Individuals occupy more psychiatric hospital beds with this condition than any other mental illness.

The symptoms of this mental health condition include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Disorganized thinking and trouble verbalizing (forgetting what one is talking about mid-sentence or using unintelligible words)
  • Depressed mood 
  • Symptoms of mania (euphoria, racing thoughts, increased risky behavior, etc.)
  • Catatonia 
  • Irritability 
  • Changes in appetite 
  • Poor hygiene habits 
  • Hyperactivity 
  • Sleep disturbances like insomnia 
  • Increased social isolation
  • Suicidal thoughts and attempts 

When diagnosing this condition, individuals must display at least 2 of the following symptoms:

  • A major mood episode (either mania or depression that lasts for an uninterrupted amount of time)
  • Delusions or hallucinations for two or more consecutive weeks without mood symptoms 
  • Mood symptoms are present for the majority of the illness 
  • The symptoms are not caused by substance abuse 

While schizoaffective disorder can mimic schizophrenia, the two conditions are very different. Instead of only experiencing hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia, individuals also experience the symptoms of a mood disorder. 

Is There a Risk of Substance Abuse Associated With Schizoaffective Disorder?

There are multiple ways that schizoaffective disorder and addiction are connected. First, individuals with this condition are at an increased risk of developing a substance use disorder. The psychosis as well as the mood swings caused by schizoaffective disorder can make people more susceptible to drug abuse and addiction.

Some experts wonder if drug abuse can cause the development of schizoaffective disorder. Because both conditions often go hand in hand, there is some possibility of drug addiction leading to the development of this illness. Also, it is believed that mental health is the cause of drug addiction in most cases, and nearly half of all patients in substance abuse treatment centers have a co-occurring mental health condition.

In some cases of schizoaffective disorder, the patient has no symptoms of a mental health condition until they begin abusing drugs. This occurs when an individual abuses substances which can lead to the symptoms of psychosis. Psychosis is characterized by delusions, disorganized thinking, hallucinations, and paranoia – some of the symptoms of schizoaffective disorder.

Drugs that can cause psychosis may include:

  • Amphetamines
  • Meth
  • Cocaine
  • LSD
  • DMT
  • Mushrooms 
  • Marijuana 
  • Alcohol 
  • Benzodiazepines 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 8 million people have experienced co-occurring mental health and substance abuse at some point.[2] Mental health conditions often cause people to self-medicate, and the same is true for someone with schizoaffective disorder.

Treating Co-Occurring Schizoaffective Disorder and Addiction

When someone suffers from both schizoaffective disorder and addiction, they must receive treatment for both conditions at the same time. Otherwise, the untreated symptoms of one condition will cause a relapse in the other. 

In a dual diagnosis program for substance abuse and schizoaffective disorder, patients will receive medical detox, medication management, behavioral therapy, and group counseling. This combination of therapeutic approaches will help patients overcome their addiction issues and learn to manage their schizoaffective disorder.

Medications can help soothe and limit the symptoms of schizoaffective disorder. The medications commonly used to treat this condition include:

  • Antipsychotics like Seroquel, Abilify, Lamictal, and Geodon (help to stabilize mood symptoms and psychotic symptoms)
  • Anticonvulsants like Tegretol, Depakote, and Trileptal (help stabilize bipolar symptoms)
  • SSRIs like Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac, and Zoloft (help soothe symptoms of depression)

When it comes to therapy for addiction and schizoaffective disorder, most programs will use behavioral therapies. 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is effective in treating the depressive type of schizoaffective disorder and helps individuals learn to manage their substance use disorder simultaneously. A different type of CBT known as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) may be used for individuals who suffer from the bipolar type of schizoaffective disorder and substance use disorder. 

Both forms of therapy help individuals learn how to identify negative patterns of thought to change them into positive ones. Additionally, they help individuals learn their addiction triggers and find healthy coping mechanisms to use in times of need. Lastly, these coping mechanisms can also be used in times of hallucinations or delusions. 

Find Help for Co-Occurring Disorders Today

Individuals who suffer from co-occurring mental health conditions and substance use disorders may have a harder time accepting treatment. Unfortunately, the only way to fully recover from co-occurring conditions is to get help from a dual diagnosis rehab center

Thankfully, Moving Mountains Recovery Center is here to help. Contact us today for more information on our dual diagnosis treatment program in New Jersey. 


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