Alcohol and Schizophrenia Treatment

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Having schizophrenia puts one at an increased risk for drug or alcohol addiction. Research indicates people with schizophrenia are at a greater risk for misusing alcohol, cocaine, cannabis, and nicotine products. Some studies show the rate of co-occurring substance use disorders and schizophrenia are as high as 70%1. Further research indicates that as many as half of those with a schizophrenia diagnosis struggled with substance abuse before the onset of mental illness symptoms. Someone with schizophrenia is almost five times as likely to be diagnosed with an alcohol use or drug use disorder than someone without the diagnosis2.

When someone struggles with a substance use disorder and schizophrenia, their symptoms are heavily intertwined. It is not uncommon for them to turn to substances at higher doses and more frequent intervals in an attempt to dull the physical and psychological symptoms associated with both illnesses. In addition to self-medication as a theory for why schizophrenia and alcohol use are connected, researchers also believe there could be other links as well. These links or factors include genetic predisposition for schizophrenia and environmental factors such as trauma history.

How Difficult is it to Cure Alcohol Addiction and Schizophrenia?

When you struggle with alcohol addiction and schizophrenia, it means you have a co-occurring disorder or dual-diagnosis. Dual diagnosis conditions can be difficult for treatment providers to address as the symptoms of each illness, usually experienced, managed, and treated separately, are highly intertwined. Many of the symptoms of each condition overlap; therefore, it is challenging to determine if one condition was present before the other or if one condition led to the development of the other. Due to how connected dual diagnosis conditions are, it is essential to address both conditions as part of a comprehensive treatment program specializing in dual diagnosis conditions.

When you seek help at a treatment center specializing in dual diagnosis treatment, highly trained providers skilled in assessing the unique needs of dual diagnosis care will work with you to design a treatment program focused on your specific needs. A dual diagnosis treatment plan ensures your treatment can focus on all areas of your physical and psychological health.

Curing alcohol addiction and schizophrenia is not impossible; however, addressing dual diagnosis conditions requires specialized, evidence-based treatment. At these programs, treatment providers are skilled in identifying and addressing the root difficulties of the mental health conditions that have led to harmful behaviors such as substance abuse. With schizophrenia (and other mental health conditions), substance use disorders frequently develop out of choosing alcohol and other substances to self-medicate mental health symptoms. Addressing how mental health symptoms led to addiction requires a well-rounded, holistic treatment program that adequately and comprehensively addresses all physical, psychological, and spiritual struggles.  When someone struggles with schizophrenia, the healing process may, for a brief time, worsen schizophrenia symptoms.

If you struggle with a severe addiction to alcohol and symptoms of schizophrenia, it can be dangerous to attempt to get sober on your own. Because the symptoms of schizophrenia will often worsen as part of the alcohol withdrawal process, it is essential to seek help at a dual diagnosis treatment center to safely and successfully overcome addiction and learn healthier, safer ways to manage schizophrenia symptoms. Under the best of circumstances, alcoholics experiencing withdrawal symptoms from severe alcohol addiction can experience intense, overwhelming symptoms that include aggression, hallucinations, and delirium tremens or DTs. With schizophrenia, the symptoms one develops could lead to dangerous mood swings, behaviors, and other symptoms that could make them a danger to others or even themselves. This unique treatment challenge points to the vital importance of seeking help at an inpatient alcohol rehab with treatment professionals skilled in helping manage dual diagnosis conditions, especially the unique conditions linking schizophrenia and alcohol addiction.

Treatment Programs

As noted above, substance abuse and mental health frequently co-occur4. For this reason, it is vital to seek a treatment facility where treatment programs are uniquely designed and specifically focused on treating both conditions simultaneously. If someone struggling with schizophrenia, or even alcohol addiction on its own, suddenly reduces or stops using, the withdrawal symptoms they experience can lead to sudden medical emergencies - some of which can be fatal. In addition, under self-detox or “cold turkey" circumstances, withdrawal symptoms from alcohol abuse can become so overwhelming that it often quickly leads to relapse and the potential for alcohol poisoning or alcohol-related death. For someone who struggles with schizophrenia and alcohol addiction, this scenario can be far worse.

However, when you seek treatment at an inpatient alcohol rehab specializing in dual diagnosis care, you will receive both medically assisted detox services, and mental health supports needed to address your physical and psychological needs during detox. Additionally, the therapeutic process after detox is complete will provide you with the lasting tools necessary to manage your symptoms using healthier, safer coping strategies.

Inpatient Treatment for Alcohol and Schizophrenia

The first step of almost all diagnosis treatment programs is detox. Detox is essential when trying to overcome alcohol use disorders, as detoxing from alcohol addiction is not often successful without the assistance of professional support. When someone struggles with a co-occurring alcohol use disorder and schizophrenia, special considerations need to be considered as part of the treatment process. This is vital to ensure that both issues are addressed as part of a comprehensive treatment program.

When treated as part of individual treatment programs, schizophrenia and alcohol use disorders follow specific courses of treatment designed to help patients address the roots of their addiction while developing vital relapse prevention tools to use as they leave treatment and continue their journey to lasting recovery. Treatment programs for both mental health conditions such as schizophrenia and alcohol use disorders generally involve a combination of therapy, peer support groups, medications, education and aftercare planning. At a dual-diagnosis treatment program, treatment professionals will address both alcohol use disorders and mental health symptoms as part of a simultaneous treatment program rather than each condition as a separate illness.

When you seek help to address an alcohol use disorder and a mental health condition, it is first necessary to begin with detox. Because mental health and substance use disorders are heavily intertwined, it is essential to start the therapeutic portion of the treatment process without the influence of substances. If you are still struggling with cravings or other issues related to substance abuse, it is difficult to focus on healing and overcoming addiction. Overcoming an alcohol addiction requires seeking help from a medically assisted detox program. As part of the detox process, you will work with a team of medical and mental health professionals to safely wean off alcohol. Depending on the severity and duration of your addiction, this process may take between three days and up to one week.

Throughout detox, a team of skilled medical professionals will ensure your physical health by monitoring your vital signs. Also, mental health professionals will provide emotional support by helping you manage the psychological symptoms of withdrawal. Once detox is complete, it is possible for your treatment team to adequately assess schizophrenia symptoms and determine the best treatment model to address your specific treatment needs. Once detox is complete and withdrawal symptoms are adequately managed, you will transition into a therapeutic program designed to address the symptoms of an alcohol use disorder and your mental health. To improve treatment outcomes, antipsychotic medications may be prescribed to help reduce the intensity and severity of schizophrenia symptoms.

Depending on your specific treatment needs, you will participate in a range of therapies, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, family therapy, and other alternative therapies. Cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT is a frequently used and highly effective therapy model used to address co-occurring disorders5. As part of cognitive-behavioral therapy sessions, you will work with your therapist to identify and examine thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that contribute to addiction and ongoing mental health challenges. Cognitive-behavioral therapy encourages patients to consider how their thoughts and actions lead to ongoing harmful behaviors such as using substances3 to cope with mental health symptoms. The healthy coping techniques learned as part of cognitive-behavioral therapy are also beneficial in helping patients learn healthier and safer ways to manage schizophrenia symptoms, including auditory hallucinations, which may persist even when actively taking antipsychotic medications to manage symptoms.  

Therapeutic sessions may take place in an individual, group, or family setting. As part of many dual diagnosis treatment programs, participation in peer support groups such as 12 step programs are also a vital part of treatment. As your treatment at a professional dual diagnosis treatment comes to an end, you will work with your treatment team to ensure a comprehensive, individualized aftercare plan is in place to ensure ongoing, high-level support and therapeutic options are available as you continue your recovery.

Ideal Duration of Treatment to Ensure Full Recovery

Mental health and addiction treatment programs range in duration from 30 days to 90-day extended rehab programs. Although shorter programs can be highly effective in helping individuals struggling with dual diagnosis systems, they may not provide an optimal therapeutic duration to ensure recovery. Research into addiction and mental health treatment indicates optimal treatment outcomes are generally achieved from programs lasting at least 90 days6.  

When you struggle with co-occurring disorders, the symptoms impact all aspects of your life, including your physical and psychological health as well as family and social relationships. Alcohol addiction and co-occurring schizophrenia often lead to various complications that require time and a full course of comprehensive, evidence-based treatment to adequately address. 90-day inpatient treatment programs provide a safe and secure environment free from exposure to potential relapse triggers. This ensures you can work on understanding addiction, how addiction relates to your mental health and how to change the negative behaviors (such as self-medication) that may lead to relapse. It is not uncommon for these behaviors to be deeply ingrained. Alcohol use disorders generally take time to develop, even when alcohol is used as a way to cope with a mental health condition. Because it takes time to develop harmful habits, an adequate amount of time must be allowed to effectively alter negative habits and replace them with healthy and safer coping mechanisms. Often, this is difficult or impossible to accomplish in a short-term treatment program.

Another important factor in determining ideal treatment duration is the high relapse rate for alcohol use disorders. Research by the National Institutes on Drug Abuse and Health indicates the relapse rate for substance use disorders is as high as 60%. This means as many as 60 in 100 individuals who complete an addiction treatment program to address substance use disorder will experience at least one incidence of relapse. When seeking help to overcome a dual diagnosis condition, the risk for relapse may be further increased if one doesn't complete a treatment program that provides an adequate treatment duration to address all symptoms thoroughly.  Relapse prevention education and skill development are vital parts of a 90-day treatment program. Unfortunately, the level of therapeutic assistance needed to address all symptoms may not be possible in a shorter program.

Cost of Treatment

The cost of dual diagnosis treatment will vary based on location, type of treatment, and the care level of service required to achieve an optimal treatment outcome. It can be challenging to determine your specific treatment costs without developing a clear understanding of the type of care you need to meet your treatment needs and goals. Your healthcare provider, an insurance provider on an online addiction treatment resource, can help you find a treatment center near you.

If you or a loved one struggles with co-occurring alcohol addiction and schizophrenia, seeking treatment at a dual diagnosis treatment center is vital to your safe and successful recovery. Therapy programs at a dual diagnosis treatment program are uniquely designed to address the specific challenges of overcoming a mental health diagnosis and an alcohol use disorder. Unfortunately, not all inpatient treatment programs provide treatment models designed to manage the unique nature of dual diagnosis treatment. Choosing a program that addresses only one part of your overall health increases your risk for relapse after treatment ends.