Schizoaffective Disorder And Addiction

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D on July 5, 2021

People who suffer with mental health conditions, such as schizoaffective disorder, are prone to use alcohol and illicit drugs more frequently than the general population. When these conditions co-occur, they require dual diagnosis treatment.

Co-Occurring Schizoaffective Disorder And Addiction

Schizoaffective disorder is a spectrum disorder characterized by a combination of schizophrenia and mood disorders.

The disorder usually has one or more symptoms of schizophrenia (delusions, disorganized behavior, hallucinations) with episodic mania that may present with symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Many people with mental health conditions, including schizoaffective disorder, are more prone to use alcohol and illicit drugs more frequently than the general population.

When both schizoaffective and substance use disorders occur together, they require integrated therapies during dual diagnosis treatment.

Dual diagnosis treatment provides necessary therapies and medications for both disorders simultaneously.

Learn more about co-occurring psychotic disorders and addiction

What Is Schizoaffective Disorder?

Schizoaffective disorder is a challenging disease to categorize because it features primary symptoms of schizophrenia and manic episodes.

Both schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder are schizophrenia spectrum disorders that can lead to significant disability.

The condition is commonly diagnosed in late adolescence or early adulthood, although it can occur later in life.

Frequently, schizoaffective disorder is misdiagnosed as bipolar or another depressive-type disorder.

Diagnosing Schizoaffective Disorder

Symptoms of schizoaffective disorder may vary. Many patients may have auditory hallucinations with delusions of persecution before exhibiting depressive symptoms.

Symptoms of both depression and psychosis will commonly continue for three months or more. However, other variant presentations of the condition may occur.

To diagnose this disorder, a qualified medical health professional will look for the following symptoms:

  • delusions
  • visual or auditory hallucinations
  • impaired speech
  • incoherence
  • unusual behavior
  • depressive symptoms that include sadness, or feeling empty or worthless
  • manic episodes that include insomnia and increased energy levels
  • reduced professional, social, or academic performance
  • difficulties managing personal care, including hygiene and physical appearance

There are often high rates of co-occurring substance abuse among people with schizoaffective disorder.

Evidence also indicates substance abuse worsens psychotic disorders, so individuals with schizoaffective disorder are often screened for alcohol and substance abuse.

How Common Is Co-Occurring Schizoaffective Disorder And Addiction?

Individuals with mental illness, such as schizoaffective disorder, are more likely than the general population to become addicted to drugs and alcohol.

When individuals have both disorders, it contributes to worse outcomes than for those who only have schizoaffective disorder.

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Among the general population, the lifetime prevalence for schizoaffective disorder is unknown, however, it is estimated to be between 0.3% and 1.1%.

Individuals with schizoaffective disorders are three times more likely to abuse alcohol than the general population.

Why Do People With Schizoaffective Disorder Turn To Substance Abuse?

Unfortunately, individuals with schizoaffective disorder are more likely to abuse illicit drugs and alcohol.

When these conditions occur together, they are often more challenging to treat.

Individuals with schizoaffective disorder may turn to substance abuse as means to self-treat symptoms of mental illness.

Unfortunately, chronic, psychotic illness often leads to reduced cognitive functioning that is worsened by the effects of substance abuse.

A person may use drugs and alcohol to:

  • self-medicate anxiety and depression
  • numb negative emotions
  • reduce unpleasant thoughts
  • experience temporary, pleasurable effects

For people with schizoaffective disorder, substance abuse can quickly progress and lead to advanced stages of addiction.

When these disorders occur together, it increases the risks of adverse side effects and exacerbation of symptoms of mental illness.

Diagnosing Schizoaffective Disorder And Addiction

Because substance abuse can produce psychotic symptoms, health care providers must often differentiate between psychotic symptoms and symptoms produced by drugs and alcohol.

Diagnosing individuals with schizoaffective disorder may be challenging, as individuals suffering with the condition may be unable to provide details of their medical history, during psychotic episodes.

It may be necessary to collect medical information from other sources, such as family members, in order to diagnose the condition.

Diagnosing these disorders is based on:

  • initial medical evaluations
  • psychological assessments
  • laboratory exams
  • family medical history, with focus on genetic predisposition
  • consultation with family members or personal caregivers

Treatment For Schizoaffective Disorder And Substance Abuse

It is recommended that individuals with the co-occurring disorders of schizoaffective disorder and substance abuse receive dual diagnosis treatment.

Treating both disorders simultaneously is vital for recovery, and often involves a combination of medication, with behavioral and psychosocial interventions.

Group therapy with a focus on behavioral therapies may prove essential in reducing substance abuse and symptoms of mental illness.

Dual diagnosis treatment may involve:

  • medical detox
  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • psychodynamic therapy
  • behavioral therapy
  • medication
  • motivational enhancement therapy
  • group and family therapy

Get Treatment For Schizoaffective Disorder And Addiction

Unfortunately, individuals with schizoaffective disorder are more likely to suffer from drug and alcohol abuse.

While substance use disorder may make treatment more challenging, treatment is necessary to achieve better outcomes and recovery.

If you or someone you love struggles with substance abuse and schizoaffective disorder, help is available.

Dual diagnosis treatment is available through:

  • individual medical providers
  • inpatient or outpatient treatment centers
  • rehabilitation centers

If you or a loved one has schizoaffective disorder or substance abuse issues, or if you want to locate a dual diagnosis treatment program for these disorders, please call our helpline today.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D on July 5, 2021
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