Schizophreniform disorder is very close in nature to schizophrenia. In fact, it is only diagnosed when the signs of schizophrenia have not been in evidence long enough to warrant a diagnosis for that disorder. When signs of schizophrenia are an issue for six months or less, the diagnosis is schizophreniform disorder. When those symptoms persist, the diagnosis is usually changed to schizophrenia.
Those who struggle with schizophreniform disorder, like those who are living with schizophrenia, are unable to determine what is real and what is not. They live in a world defined by delusion and find it almost impossible to connect with others.
Unfortunately, like other patients who struggle with serious mental health issues, it’s not uncommon to find that co-occurring disorders worsen the situation. Substance abuse specifically is a common factor, an issue that not only creates a host of problems of its own but that also worsens the symptoms of schizophreniform disorder. When drug and alcohol abuse exists in concert with that diagnosis, it adds another layer of urgency to the need for immediate treatment.
If your loved one is diagnosed with schizophreniform disorder or you believe that this may be the cause of their symptoms, you can find them the treatment they need to heal when you contact us at the phone number listed above.
Signs of Schizophreniform Disorder
There are a number of signs and symptoms that families can look for in order to identify the potential for a schizophreniform disorder diagnosis. These can include:
- Hallucinations. When schizophreniform disorder is an issue, patients may experience visual, auditory or tactile hallucinations.
- Delusions. The inability to detect what is real and what is not as well as a detailed belief that others are out to get them or that they are the focus of attack or conspiracy is one of the hallmarks of the disorder.
- Speech issues. Patients may not make sense when they talk, use nonsensical words, and/or jump from one conversation to the next without warning.
- Odd behavior. These signs will vary from patient to patient but may include muttering to oneself, rocking back and forth, pacing, and/or constantly drawing or writing.
- Isolation. Avoiding friends and family as much as possible is a common part of the disorder.
- Low energy. Having little energy to take care of themselves (e.g., shower, shave, brush their teeth, etc.) or take part in life is often an issue as well.
What Causes Mental Illness?
There is no known cause for schizophreniform disorder but, like many mental illnesses and substance abuse issues, it is often a combination of factors that contribute to the development of the problem. The following may be contributory causes:
- Genes. When a parent or sibling is diagnosed with a mental health disorder, especially schizophrenia, the chance of developing schizophreniform disorder increases in likelihood. The same is true for substance abuse; addiction disorders often run in families.
- Environment. There can be a number of social stressors that can build up – especially when they occur in combination with a genetic predisposition to the disorder – that can contribute to the development of a mental illness. Trauma, for example, can trigger schizophreniform disorder and/or a substance abuse issue.
- Brain chemistry. Chemical function in the brain is not always balanced and when levels of certain chemicals drop or are not managed well naturally by the body, it can create mental health symptoms like those that define schizophreniform disorder.
Relationships with Others
A study published in the journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica found that the negative symptoms associated with schizophreniform disorder deeply impacted the participants’ ability to connect with others and form strong bonds. For example, many participants found it difficult to maintain eye contact during conversation and others often closed their eyes for periods of time.
Additionally, common symptoms associated with schizophreniform disorder like blunted affect or flat affect can also reduce the capability of patients to empathize and engage with others on a social level.
The inability to connect with others often serves to increase the paranoid delusions felt by patients that makes them suspicious of the intent of others.
It can also make it difficult for family members to guide their loved one toward treatment; even the hope of recovery can be distorted due to the disease. Both of these issues can prolong the experience of active and untreated mental illness, which in turn can increase the chances of risk associated with avoiding care and treatment.
Can Substance Abuse Cause Schizophreniform Disorder?
No. Schizophreniform disorder can co-occur with addiction and drug abuse, but drinking and drug use cannot cause schizophreniform disorder. However, depending upon the drug of choice and pattern of use, certain drugs in combination with certain personalities can manifest in symptoms that may be similar to schizophreniform disorder. For this reason, immediate cessation of all drug use in a medically supervised setting is recommended.
Additionally, long-term monitoring is necessary in order to determine whether or not symptoms are caused by substance abuse or the signs of an underlying mental health disorders exacerbated by drugs and alcohol.
Is Schizophreniform Disorder a Valid Diagnosis?
Some in the medical and psychiatric field argue that because of the short duration of symptoms that either pass with time or turn into a diagnosis for schizophrenia, a diagnosis of schizophreniform disorder may not be viable. In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry suggests that it may be more effective for patients who struggle with symptoms of schizophreniform disorder to instead be diagnosed with a psychotic disorder not otherwise specified until more clinical data and information can be gathered.
Though symptoms should not be ignored and immediate treatment is warranted, this diagnosis can indicate a highlighted need for ongoing monitoring to determine whether or not the symptoms are related to another issue (e.g., substance abuse) or early indications of a lifelong mental illness like schizophrenia.
Pharmacological Treatment for Schizophreniform Disorder
A combination of treatments is recommended in the treatment of schizophreniform disorder. Rapid onset of severe symptoms, as is often the case with this disorder, can be scary. Medication is often one of the first methods used to stabilize the patient and help them get the symptoms under control so they are able to focus on other aspects of treatment. WebMD reports that the following atypical antipsychotic medications are commonly used in the treatment of schizophreniform disorder:
If these medications are not effective, antipsychotic medications may be utilized in treatment to address specific issues like hallucination, delusions and others.
Therapeutic Care for Schizophreniform Disorder and Substance Abuse
There are a number of different therapies that can be effective in helping patients to overcome and/or manage the symptoms related to schizophreniform disorder. When substance abuse is also an issue, many of the following therapies will also serve to mitigate the issues related to drug and alcohol addiction. Popular options in therapeutic treatment for both disorders include:
- Personal therapy. Regular one-on-one therapy sessions can help patients to have a safe place to talk about stressors and concerns that occurred prior to or during active schizophreniform disorder symptoms and/or addiction. Additionally, this can be a place for patients to address new stressors as they arise and discuss how well other forms of therapeutic intervention are working for them.
- The 12 Steps. When drug and alcohol abuse is an issue, 12-Step meetings can serve to assist patients in addressing their role in their addiction as well as their recovery and help them to work on making positive choices that aid in ongoing sobriety each day.
- Group therapy. Meeting regularly with others who are in the process of learning how to better manage mental health symptoms and issues of addiction can decrease the level of isolation in recovery, improve accountability, and aid patients in connecting with others in a way that is positive.
- Family therapy. The support of concerned family members can be hugely beneficial to patients as they go through the hard work of recovery, both during treatment and after. Family therapy can help family members to better understand the nature of the issues facing their loved one, learn how to support them, work on past issues that may continue to be problematic, and work on positive communication skills with the benefit of an objective third party.
- Alternative therapies. An effective Dual Diagnosis treatment program will offer a wide range of treatment and therapy options in order to increase the ability of the patient to grow and heal. Nutritional therapy, personal training, life coaching, parenting classes, job skills and training – all these and more can augment the patient’s ability to benefit from more traditional styles of therapy and improve their chances of staying the course when they return home.
- Holistic treatment. Treatment that offers assistance in learning how to lower stress can help patients to keep events in perspective and limit triggers for relapse. Yoga, meditation, acupressure, bodywork and massage, and acupuncture are popular options that can be hugely effective.
Inpatient or Outpatient Care?
When schizophreniform disorder is diagnosed, immediate stabilization is often recommended.
This can be difficult to attain on an outpatient basis, and many families prefer an inpatient program that provides around-the-clock monitoring for their loved one.
When a co-occurring disorder situation that includes drug abuse or addiction is also an issue, it can strengthen the case for choosing an inpatient treatment program. Detoxification is difficult enough; when mental health symptoms are also a factor, it can increase the risk of complications or relapse when attempted at home or on an outpatient basis. Additionally, the ongoing risk of relapse is a constant threat to recovery on both fronts, thus inpatient care for the first 30 to 60 days can help ensure the prevention of relapse during the crucial initial phase of recovery.
Is Dual Diagnosis Rehab Right for Your Loved One?
Are you not sure how best to help your loved one address schizophreniform disorder so they can learn how to manage symptoms and find balance in their lives? It’s not something you have to figure out alone. It can be difficult to sift through the many options and claims made by thousands of rehabilitation programs purporting to provide effective care for mental health disorders and/or substance abuse.
If your loved one is living with both a mental health disorder and a drug and alcohol abuse disorder, Dual Diagnosis treatment is recommended. Only a program that has the resources to provide directed treatment tailor-made to meet your loved one’s needs can ensure the best possible chance at recovery. Learn more about your loved one’s options in treatment when you contact us at the phone number listed above today.
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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.