For years, researchers have known that people who have schizophrenia tend to develop an addiction to nicotine products. Smoking tends to provide these people with a calming, soothing sensation that can allow them to handle the unusual thoughts and feelings that tend to accompany schizophrenia, and the opportunity to breathe deeply while smoking also seems to make people with schizophrenia feel just a little better.
But research now suggests that alcohol is also a common addictive drug used by people who have schizophrenia. In fact, a study in the journal Alcohol Research and Health suggests that alcoholism is the most common co-occurring condition in people who have schizophrenia.
Why Use Alcohol?
Living with schizophrenia means living with a mind that seems to race from sunup to sundown. Unusual sounds, sights and smells are common, and some people with schizophrenia feel tense throughout the day, as they’re worried about the tricks their minds will play on them as they go through everyday life. Just as nicotine has the ability to soothe, alcohol can also be quite relaxing, slowing down electrical activity inside the brain and delivering a sensation of peace, calm and quiet.
Other drugs can produce also this sensation, of course, including:
- Prescription painkillers
But recreational use of these substances is considered an illegal activity, and as a result, these drugs can be difficult for people to obtain. Alcohol, on the other hand, is remarkably easy to procure. In some states, it’s even available in grocery stores. This availability might make alcohol an appealing substance for people with schizophrenia.
In addition, a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry suggests that there’s a genetic predisposition at work. Here, twin studies suggest that people who have schizophrenia tend to develop alcoholism at rates not seen in people who don’t share genetic material. While researchers haven’t determined the exact gene responsible for both conditions, studies like this do seem to suggest that genetics could very well be responsible for the development of these two very different disorders.
Schizophrenia is a chronic condition, meaning that there is no magic cure that could wipe the disease away for good, but treatment really can help. Medications can help to correct the chemical imbalances in play in people who have schizophrenia, while therapy can help people to spot the difference between a damaging, hallucinogenic thought and one that comes from the rational portion of the mind. Support group work can even be vital, as it might help people to connect with others who have schizophrenia and learn how others have controlled this very serious disease.
Therapy can also help people with schizophrenia to understand that alcohol really doesn’t help in controlling the disease. Instead, this substance tends to make hallucinations more pronounced and makes behavior a little harder to control. With therapy, people might learn how to stop drinking and start working, so they’ll have better long-term control.
This is the kind of help Foundations Recovery Network programs can provide. Our facilities specialize in assisting with very complicated cases of mental illness, and our staff members are adept at delivering solutions that really make a difference. Please call, and our admissions coordinators can help you find the right program for your family.
David W. Newton is a board certified pharmacist and also has been a board member for boards of examiners for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy since 1983. His areas of expertise are primarily pharmaceuticals as well as cannabinoids. You can read an article about his expertise in CBD on the National Library of Medicine.
Reviewed by: Kim Chin and Marian Newton