Alcohol and Schizophrenia
People suffering from schizophrenia, like many with mental health conditions, are likely to turn to alcohol abuse as a form of self-medication. This can quickly turn into a dependency.
What is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder, believed to be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, that affects how a person perceives the world around them. This often means that a person with schizophrenia will see, hear, or even smell things that aren’t there. Schizophrenia can also cause something known as a “flat affect,” a reduced expression of emotion, though the mechanism behind this is unclear.
Though the terms are often used interchangeably, schizophrenia and paranoia are not the same thing. However, it is common for someone with schizophrenia to develop the latter. This is known as paranoid schizophrenia.
How Alcohol Affects People with Schizophrenia
People with any mental health disorder can be more likely to develop alcoholism. This is because of the way some alcohol impacts many disorders. For example, alcohol impacts individuals with some disorders more strongly, or it could temporarily mask their symptoms. When an underlying mental health condition is present in addition to alcoholism, it is known as a co-occurring disorder or a dual-diagnosis. In the case of individuals with schizophrenia, like everyone, alcohol dulls the senses.
The desired effects of alcohol use occur because alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. This can be a great relief to someone with schizophrenia, as it dulls their senses and can make them less aware of what they are experiencing.
Not only does this dull many symptoms of schizophrenia, giving the sufferer break from what they normally experience, but studies show that alcohol can have a greater euphoric effect on them than people without the disorder. Naturally, with the increase of a “reward,” people who suffer from schizophrenia are likely to drink more as a respite from their symptoms and an increased sense of well-being. The increased consumption makes schizophrenics more susceptible to develop an alcohol use disorder (AUD).
An alcohol use disorder will affect a schizophrenic in every way it would affect someone without the disorder, straining their relationships and health. Additionally, the symptoms of withdrawal can make their hallucinations worse, adding additional pain to what they are seeing and hearing.
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Help for People with Schizophrenia and Alcohol Use Disorder
Whenever it comes to any case of treating alcohol use disorder in someone with a co-occurring disorder, the already taxing process of rehabilitation becomes that much harder. In the case of a schizophrenic, alcohol has become an unhealthy coping mechanism for handling their disorder. When they work to give up alcohol, the symptoms of schizophrenia are likely to become worse. This makes it risky to try and give up alcohol on one’s own.
Alcoholics going through severe withdrawal, with no co-occurring disorders, have been known to hallucinate and become violent. (This is known as the delirium tremens, or the “DTs”) Adding the symptoms of schizophrenia to this scenario, an individual could be more likely to be a danger to themselves and others. However, this can be minimized with professional medical assistance. Having specialists help means detoxing and recovering from alcohol abuse in a safe space, where symptoms of withdrawal can be monitored and treated accordingly.
If you or someone you love suffers from alcoholism but fears triggering a co-occurring disorder when you attempt recovery, then reach out today. Dedicated treatment professionals are waiting to help in any way they can.
Clinical Reviewer — Last Reveiwed: December 10, 2019
D’Souza, Deepak; et al. (2006). Enhanced Sensitivity to the Euphoric Effects of Alcohol in Schizophrenia. Retrieved March 14th 2018 from https://www.nature.com/articles/1301207#results
Drake, Robert E. et al. (2000). Co-Occurring Alcohol Use Disorder and Schizophrenia. Retrieved March 14th 2018 from https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh26-2/99-102.pdf
National Institute of Mental Health. (2016). Schizophrenia. Retrieved March 14th 2018 from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/schizophrenia/index.shtml
Saitz, Richard, MD, MPH. (1998) Introduction to Alcohol Withdrawal. Retrieved November 439, 2019 from https://pubs.niaa.nih.gov/.publications/arh22-1/05-12.pdf
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