Schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder that makes it difficult to tell what is real from what is not real. This leads to poor judgment and, at times, bizarre behavior. Delusions, hallucinations, paranoia and incomprehensible communication are the primary symptoms of schizophrenia.1
Individuals who live with schizophrenia are often reluctant to undergo treatment. This is in part because the antipsychotic medicine doctors prescribe to treat the disorder have unpleasant side effects. Some with this disorder will abuse drugs to relieve the symptoms and unpleasant side effects from their prescription medicine.
How Schizophrenia Connects to Opiate Abuse
Opiates are drugs or substances derived from the poppy plant such as heroin, morphine and codeine. All of these are highly addictive narcotics that generate a strong high and a sense of well-being.2 While opiate abuse does not cause schizophrenia, one of the symptoms of abusing certain opiates is psychosis. This is a condition with symptoms similar to those of schizophrenia, such as delusions and hallucinations.3
Many with this disorder self-medicate with substances like alcohol, nicotine, cocaine and opiates to find relief from their psychotic symptoms. Opiate drugs can sometimes reduce these symptoms because of the high they create. However, people who suffer from schizophrenia endanger their chances of recovery by abusing opiates.
Opiate drugs are highly addictive. Your body quickly builds up a tolerance to them causing abuse to escalate beyond control. The dosage must increase over time to preserve the effect. People who become addicted risk much to keep their habit, with serious side effects like respiratory depression, decreased heart rate or even fatal overdose.
Mental symptoms of withdrawal can include, among other symptoms, the following:
These side effects can make the problems of schizophrenia worse. Because opiates build tolerance, they are not an effective treatment for schizophrenia. If you abuse opiates to ward off symptoms of this disorder, an addiction is likely to develop, and then you’ll be facing co-occurring disorders.
Treatment for Co-occurring Schizophrenia and Opiate Addiction
Those who suffer from schizophrenia will not find lasting relief from their disorder by abusing opiates. Opiate abuse is risky and potentially fatal. Using opiates may offer temporary relief from difficult psychotic symptoms, but recovery needs a long-term solution.
Schizophrenia is a chronic disorder that requires long-term treatment involving therapy and likely medicine — but it must be prescribed and managed by a supervising physician. Living with schizophrenia is a difficult enough struggle without the problem of drug addiction. Close management of medicine can reduce unpleasant side effects while keeping opiates out of the picture. If you find yourself struggling with both disorders, you will need specialized treatment that addresses both disorders simultaneously.
By treating co-occurring disorders together, you can understand the connection between the two and heal from both together.
Help for Schizophrenia and Opiate Abuse”
If you are suffering from schizophrenia and drug addiction, you will need a recovery program tailored to fit both co-occurring disorders. Treatment must help both the addiction and the mental disorder, and we can help. Call our 24-hour, toll-free helpline, 844-675-1221, to find out about treatment options for these co-occurring disorders. Our caring admissions coordinators are ready to help you. Please call today.
1 “Schizophrenia.” National Institute on Mental Health, February 2016.
2 “Opioids.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, Accessed June 19, 2018.
3 Blau, Max, “This legal opioid is leaving a lethal trail in the US.” CNN, November 1, 2016.
4 “Opiate and opioid withdrawal.” Medline Plus, April 20, 2016.
Further Reading About Schizophrenia and Opiate Use
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.