Updated on May 1, 2024
6 min read

Schizophrenia: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Schizophrenia is a complex mental health condition that can change the way a person thinks, feels, and experiences the world. Sadly, people with schizophrenia are also more likely to struggle with addiction. This makes managing their illness even harder and can have serious consequences.

This article will explain what schizophrenia is, the signs to watch out for, how it's diagnosed, and the treatment options available.

We'll also discuss the link between schizophrenia and addiction. Understanding schizophrenia and the best ways to manage it can offer hope for those living with the condition and their loved ones.

Does Schizophrenia Lead to Addiction?

Unfortunately, people with schizophrenia are more likely to struggle with addiction to substances like alcohol or drugs. However, having the condition isn’t a guarantee that you’ll develop an addiction—it just means that you’re more vulnerable to the possibility.

This combination of conditions makes both harder to manage and can lead to serious consequences, such as:

  • Worsening schizophrenia symptoms
  • Increased risk of hospitalization
  • Difficulty following treatment plans
  • Overall poorer quality of life

It’s important to note that mental health conditions won’t automatically lead to addiction. It’s irresponsible to think that anyone with a mental illness may develop an unhealthy dependence on a substance.

Why Is Addiction More Common in People with Schizophrenia?

Sometimes, some people with schizophrenia use substances to try and lessen or ease their symptoms or take their minds off the difficulties that come with their symptoms. They may also use illicit substances to cope with the side effects of medication.

The brain changes found in schizophrenia may also overlap with those that make addiction more likely. Stressful experiences, which are all too common for those with schizophrenia, can increase the risk of both addiction and schizophrenia worsening.

Substances People with Schizophrenia Often Abuse

Among people with schizophrenia, the most common addictions include:

  • Tobacco (cigarettes)
  • Alcohol
  • Cannabis (marijuana)
  • Cocaine

They often abuse these substances to self-medicate or alleviate the toughest symptoms of their disorder. Schizophrenia is a very difficult illness to live with, so some people try to find escape from its challenges by dulling their symptoms and turning to substance abuse.

This often turns to addiction. If you or anyone you love is struggling with both addiction and schizophrenia, get medical intervention immediately.

What are the Symptoms of Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia can cause someone to think, feel, and experience the world differently than others. The most well-known symptoms, like delusions and hallucinations, are the best examples of that, but there’s more to the illness than those symptoms.

Not everyone will have all the symptoms, and their intensity can change over time. Here's a breakdown of the main symptom categories:

Positive Symptoms

Positive symptoms aren’t “good” symptoms. Rather, they're an addition of unusual thoughts or experiences. They include:

  • Hallucinations: Perceiving things that aren't there, like hearing voices, seeing things, or smelling things others don't
  • Delusions: Holding strong beliefs that aren't based on reality, such as believing you're being followed or have special powers
  • Disorganized thinking: Difficulty making sense when speaking, jumping from topic to topic, or using words in an unusual way
  • Unusual movements: Unpredictable or repetitive movements, agitation, or difficulty carrying out tasks

Negative Symptoms

Negative symptoms refer to a reduction of “normal” or typical experiences or abilities. They include:

  • Flattened emotions: Reduced ability to express emotions through facial expressions, tone of voice, or gestures
  • Lack of motivation: Difficulty starting or following through with activities
  • Social withdrawal: Pulling away from friends, family, and social situations
  • Difficulty with self-care: Neglecting basic hygiene

Cognitive Symptoms

These symptoms affect thinking processes and can be harder to notice. They include:

  • Trouble concentrating: Difficulty focusing or paying attention
  • Poor decision-making: Struggling to use and understand information to make choices
  • Memory problems: Trouble remembering things recently learned

If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, reaching out for professional help is important. With the proper treatment and support, managing schizophrenia is possible. And if you do manage schizophrenia properly, you lessen your potential for developing an addiction.


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How is Schizophrenia Diagnosed?

Diagnosing schizophrenia involves a careful process to rule out other possible causes of symptoms and to confirm the presence of the condition's defining characteristics. 

Since there's no single test for schizophrenia, it's diagnosed through a combination of methods.

Comprehensive Assessment

A doctor or mental health professional will gather information through:

  • Physical Exam: This helps rule out medical conditions that might cause similar symptoms
  • Testing: Blood tests, imaging scans (like an MRI), and screenings for substance use may be ordered to identify other potential causes
  • Psychiatric Evaluation: This includes observing your behavior, discussing your thoughts and experiences, and reviewing your personal and family history

Understanding the Symptoms

To be diagnosed with schizophrenia, you must have experienced at least two key symptoms for a significant amount of time, with signs of the condition lasting for at least six months.

These symptoms include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Disorganized speech
  • Very disorganized or odd movements (catatonia)
  • Negative symptoms (like reduced emotional expression)

Ruling Out Other Conditions

Schizophrenia shares symptoms with other mental health conditions, so your doctor must carefully consider alternative diagnoses, such as:

  • Mood disorders with psychotic features
  • Substance-induced psychosis
  • Certain medical conditions

It's important to remember that a schizophrenia diagnosis requires careful evaluation by a qualified healthcare professional. If you're concerned about yourself or a loved one, seeking professional help is crucial.

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How to Treat Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a complex condition, and the most effective treatment approach combines various strategies to address its different aspects. Here's a breakdown of the key components:


Antipsychotics are medications crucial for managing the core symptoms of schizophrenia. They work by influencing brain chemicals, particularly dopamine. Your doctor will work with you to find the right medication and dosage.

Second-generation antipsychotics are often the first-line choice due to a lower risk of side effects compared to older medications. Examples include:

  • Aripiprazole (Abilify)
  • Clozapine (Clozaril)
  • Olanzapine (Zyprexa)
  • Others (your doctor will discuss the best fit for you)


Various types of therapy can be beneficial for people with schizophrenia. Treatment for schizophrenia needs to be tailored to the person.

A team of specialists, potentially including a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, and others, can offer the best chance of finding the right combination of support.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors contributing to difficulties. Individual psychotherapy, family therapy, and social skills training can also play a vital role in supporting people with schizophrenia.

Community Support

Programs offering social skills training, vocational rehabilitation, and job support can help with daily living, social interactions, and achieving personal goals.

Education and family support is also crucial. Learning about schizophrenia can empower both the individual and their loved ones. Family therapy can also help build understanding and coping strategies for everyone involved.

Other Treatments 

In times of crisis or severe symptoms, hospitalization may be needed to ensure safety and basic needs are met.

For some people who don't respond to medication, Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) may be an option but consult your doctor first.

Resources for Schizophrenia

Here are some valuable online resources dedicated to helping people with schizophrenia:

  • Students with Psychosis: A global organization providing support and programming for college students with psychosis.
  • Supportiv: A peer support network offering moderated conversations and resources for various mental health conditions.
  • NAMI Connection Recovery Support Group: A peer-led group for adults with mental health conditions, providing a platform for sharing and learning from others' experiences.
  • Schizophrenia Alliance: A self-help group for people with schizophrenia, offering in-person and online support across multiple locations.
  • SAMHSA: Free helpline for those suffering from addiction or mental illnesses

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Updated on May 1, 2024

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