Unfortunately, the combination of schizophrenia and addiction occurs much more than one might think. However, the common portrayal of individuals suffering from schizophrenia and addiction has a very negative effect. It can increase the possibility of a co-occurring disorder between schizophrenia and addiction.

In what follows, we will discuss mental illness, stigma, schizophrenia, addiction, co-occurring disorders, and how to be treated. Lastly, before we continue, if you or a loved one are struggling with either of these diseases, it is never too late to be treated. We at the Discovery Institute are here to help you above all else, and help you understand how to properly be treated for dual diagnosis

Is Schizophrenia Stigmatized?

Perhaps you have seen media portrayals of schizophrenia which have done an injustice to those suffering. Often times, individuals who are struggling with schizophrenia disorder are portrayed or thought of as insane brutes who are constantly teetering on the edge of violence. 

This idea is as harmful as it is fictional. People who struggle with schizophrenia simply struggle with a mental illness. This portrayal has stigmatized mental illness further. It has pushed individuals struggling with schizophrenia even further into the margins and extended an uneducated agenda. Furthermore, it stigmatizes schizophrenia and addiction.

What is Schizophrenia? 

Schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder. This disorder affects mental functioning, thinking, and feeling. While this disorder is fairly uncommon amongst people struggling with mental illness, it is a mental illness all the same. It causes several psychotic behaviors not seen in mentally well people. They can indicate an “out-of-touchness” with reality.

Some of the symptoms of schizophrenia can include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Movement disorders (abnormal ways of moving)
  • Thought disorders (abnormal way of thinking)
  • Delusions (a sense of grandeur, etc.) 

Delusional thoughts of grandeur can mean the mentally ill individual believes they have been chosen to save the world. Individuals may also begin to believe that they can do things that aren’t physically possible. 

Schizophrenia and addiction can also have negative symptoms (meaning disruptions to emotions and behavior) on people. This includes the “flat affect,” which means their tone or facial expressions are reduced or expressionless. They experience reduced feelings of pleasure in everyday life, difficulty beginning and sustaining activities, and reduced speaking. 

For some patients, cognitive functions may be less noticeable. However, individuals struggling with schizophrenia may experience:

  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Trouble focusing or paying attention
  • Problems with working memory (the ability to use new information)

All this to say, schizophrenia is a difficult mental illness to struggle with. It becomes more difficult when understanding the connection between mental illness and substance abuse. Before we continue, it is imperative to understand some possible risk factors.

It has long been known that schizophrenia has a strong possibility of being connected to genes, and genetically. However, there have recently been many scattered cases. Some researchers see the increase of marijuana as a frequently used drug, some see malnutrition before birth, some see exposure to viruses, and so forth. Now, before we discuss the connection between schizophrenia and addiction, it is important to identify addiction as a disease.

Is Addiction a Disease?

Recently, the surgeon general has declared substance abuse to be a disease. Thereby now referring to it as a substance use disorder. Many do not believe this, and see addiction as a moral failure. This however, is stigmatized, and uneducated stance on addiction. These individuals cite the fact that addicts, ultimately, have a choice.

However, plenty of diseases begin with “choices” such as diabetes, certain results of smoking end in lung cancer, and so on. Likewise, substance use disorder is a choice based illness. Just as you would not tell someone with lung cancer to smoke a cigarette, or offer someone with heart disease a hefty burger, a person with substance use disorder should seek treatment. However, the choice is not that simple.

The Effects of Alcohol and Drugs

Drugs and alcohol change the brain’s wiring. Since evolution wired us to believe the most pleasuring foods are best for us, when drugs or alcohol cause our brains to produce dopamine, the brain wants more. Over time, however, this causes our brains to rewire the memory, motivation, and pleasure centers. A person no longer feels normal without the substance, and is now dependent upon it. This is no longer simply a black and white choice.

Many individuals would ask, “why does it matter whether it is a choice or a disease, shouldn’t we just get them treated?” Well, what we view addiction as changes the effects of treatment. Moral failures often cause individuals to feel guilty, depressed, and shameful. All of these are possible triggers for addicts to go back to the substance. However, referring to addiction as a disease means the individual is struggling with an illness, something that needs to be treated everyday. This changes the mental health, pressure, and even effectiveness of treatment.

What Are Co-Occurring Disorders, and Why Do They Matter?

A co-occurring disorder, or a dual diagnosis, is what happens when two diseases occur at the same time. Unfortunately, the connection between mental illness and addiction is far more common than many think. When an individual experiences a mental illness and substance use disorder, they do not have two separate diseases.

The two illnesses intertwine and connect, which forms a new (and less easily treated) disease. It is unclear whether addiction causes mental illness or vice versa, what is clear that each illness can contribute or affect one another. This is why the disease model, schizophrenia, and addiction must be understood alongside one another.

Many researchers argue you cannot treat one without the other, and should pursue treatment for the whole disease (as opposed to two separate treatments). Schizophrenia and addiction can form a co-occurring disorder. When this happens, two very harmful illnesses put the individual’s life in danger.

This is why it is so important to be educated on the subject. If you or a loved one are struggling with either of these disorders, or need any help, please reach out. The Discovery Institute wants to help you understand addictions, mental health, and know for certain if you need help.

What Does Schizophrenia Have to Do With Addiction?

Roughly half of all people struggling with schizophrenia also have an addiction. If that number seems very high, it is because it is. Schizophrenia and addiction do not necessarily cause one another; however, many people think that environmental issues affect schizophrenia. 

There is also a possible trigger for many schizophrenia patients who use psychosis medicine to self-medicate using narcotics. Many people who struggle with schizophrenia also use nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Alongside this, schizophrenia and addiction have trauma in common. Many who struggle with schizophrenia have, unfortunately, dealt with trauma early on in life. This could lead to developing schizophrenia, or they could have seen family members who had the illness previously. Either way, this is also a common cause for those who turn to substance abuse as an attempt to cope, or escape these traumatic events. 

Substance Abuse and Schizophrenia

The most common substance use disorder is nicotine amongst those who struggle with schizophrenia. Schizophrenia and addiction is inherently more intertwined with nicotine. Smoking is prevalent amongst 25% of the United States population, but almost three times as high amongst schizophrenia patients. It is vital that if you believe you are struggling with schizophrenia and addiction, you receive help now. It is also important to treat the whole person. We at the Discovery Institute believe in holistic care, and hope you seek the treatment of the whole person.

How Do I Know If I Have a Dual Diagnosis?

If you are wondering whether you struggle from schizophrenia and addiction, a few symptoms are isolation, exacerbated schizophrenia symptoms, increased withdrawal effects, and heightened paranoia and anxiety. If you are a loved one, in particular, and recognize these symptoms in someone you care for; perhaps it is time to stage an intervention. These are great ways for friends and family to let the person suffering from schizophrenia and addiction to let them know they care, and motivate recovery. We at the Discovery Institute have an intervention guide, since it can be complicated.

How do I Get Better?

The above information was most likely not uplifting for the reader. However, we at the Discovery Institute want you to know it is never too late. Life has stacked cards against you, but nothing you cannot handle. You are suffering from a treatable disease, but only if you get help. Since schizophrenia and addiction is a co-occurring disorder, you will want to treat both diseases simultaneously. This does not mean simply getting treatment separately for both diseases. It means act as though you are treating the whole of your being, umbrella style. It is never too late.


Along with this, consider going to therapy. Many who struggle with schizophrenia and addiction have traumatic events in their lives. It is best you speak to a counselor. Recovery is not a road that you have to walk on your own. This is why the Discovery Institute offers both individual and group therapy. Would you prefer to walk with a group of people, or are you more preferable to the individual intimate therapy experience? Perhaps, you are interested in both? Either way, therapy is life-changing for any individual, especially those who are struggling with schizophrenia and addiction.

What Are A Few Steps I Can Take To Recover?

  1. Be Open to Loved Ones

The enemy of schizophrenia and addiction is community. Many times when we struggle with schizophrenia and addiction, we isolate ourselves. Yet, this is one of the most common causes of addiction. Not only that, it is one of the most common triggers of relapse. Those who have a commitment to recovery shouldn’t isolate themselves from the people they care about. Instead, they should embrace them even if it is hard. It’s difficult for our loved ones to properly understand how to help if their recovering family members are away from them.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

In the realm of mental illness and addiction, cognitive behavioral therapy (or CBT) is a helpful weapon for recovery. This kind of therapy focuses on our thought patterns, coping mechanisms, and past trauma. When we suffer from addiction, many a time it is due to poor coping mechanisms, past trauma, or unhealthy thought patterns. What CBT does is change that. We are able to change our brains, and thus our habits, and further change our actions.

Find a Hobby

When our brains are working against us, it is important to take our mind off things. Finding a hobby like running, art, or being in nature, are all incredible ways to naturally release dopamine; as opposed to synthetically producing it with substance use. Alongside this, it helps to kill two birds with one stone if these hobbies line up with other friends in recovery. That way we are able to pursue things we like, with people that build us up. This is a natural, and healthy way to cope with problems.

Contact Us

Know that you are not alone. At Discovery Institute, we want to help you recover. If you’re not sure where to start or the idea of treatment scares you, let us reassure you. There is hope for you but it begins with reaching out for help. 

You deserve to live a life that is free from the effects of addiction. You deserve to have the tools you need in order to manage the symptoms of schizophrenia in your life. 

If you are a loved one hoping to see the person you care for seek recovery, consider having an intervention. We at the Discovery Institute have an intervention guide, should you find that helpful. 

The most important thing to remember is that you are worth it. You deserve to take your life back. You are never too far gone. Recovery is one phone call away. We want to help you, so please reach out today.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD

Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MDDr. Jeffrey Berman is a psychiatrist in Teaneck, New Jersey and is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. He received his medical degree from State University of New York Upstate Medical University and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He also speaks multiple languages, including French and Hebrew.