Addiction and Schizoaffective Disorder: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

Co-occurring disorders are extremely common among individuals suffering from addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Of the 20.3 million adults with substance use disorders, 37.9% also had mental illnesses.”[1] In other words, about 7.7 million adults suffer from both a mental health condition and a comorbid substance use disorder.

One of the common mental health conditions to co-occur with addiction is known as schizoaffective disorder (SZA). Also known as schizo-affective psychosis, this mental health condition causes a combination of hallucinations, mania, and depression. Many people describe the symptoms of SZA as a blend of schizophrenic and bipolar traits.

Individuals who suffer from co-occurring schizoaffective disorder and addiction may face unique obstacles in recovery, but a dual diagnosis rehab program can help.

What is Schizoaffective Disorder?

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “Schizoaffective disorder is a chronic mental health condition characterized primarily by symptoms of schizophrenia, such as hallucinations or delusions, and symptoms of a mood disorder, such as mania and depression.”[2]

While the exact cause of schizoaffective disorder is unknown, researchers believe that a combination of factors is to blame. The risk factors for SZA include:

  • Genetics
  • Brain chemistry and structure
  • Stress and trauma
  • Drug abuse

Because of the similarities in symptoms, many individuals are misdiagnosed as schizophrenic or bipolar. Additionally, the limited research on schizoaffective disorder has caused treatment providers to borrow therapeutic approaches from the treatment of schizophrenia and bipolar to treat schizoaffective disorder.

Identifying the Symptoms of Schizoaffective Disorder

The symptoms of a schizoaffective disorder tend to be severe, often requiring close monitoring and medication maintenance.

The common symptoms of schizoaffective disorder include:

  • Visual and auditory hallucinations
  • Extreme delusions and paranoid thinking
  • Disorganized thinking, causes the individual to switch topics quickly or provide completely unrelated answers to questions
  • Depressed mood accompanied by feelings of sadness, emptiness, and feelings of worthlessness
  • Manic behavior, such as feelings of euphoria, racing thoughts, and impulsive behaviors

It is important to note that there are two types of schizoaffective disorder. The bipolar type of schizoaffective disorder causes symptoms of schizophrenia, mania, and major depression. On the other hand, the depressive type only causes symptoms of schizophrenia and depression, without the manic symptoms.

How are Addiction and Schizoaffective Disorder Connected?

Addiction and schizoaffective disorder are connected in two primary ways. First, drug abuse is known to cause symptoms associated with schizoaffective disorder. On the other hand, individuals with schizoaffective disorder are prone to self-medicating behaviors.

If an individual suffers from addiction before their symptoms of schizoaffective disorder begin, it is likely that the drugs they are abusing caused the onset of an already present condition. For example, substances like stimulants and hallucinogenic drugs are known to induce symptoms of psychosis.[3] This can cause the individual’s genetic predisposition to schizoaffective disorder to emerge.

When an individual with a previous diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder begins abusing drugs, they are most likely attempting to self-medicate their symptoms. In the beginning, the individual may notice that their symptoms appear lessened. Unfortunately, long-term substance abuse tends to make the symptoms of schizoaffective disorder worse and cause the development of an addiction.

Treatment for Comorbid Schizoaffective Disorder and Addiction

Schizoaffective disorder and addiction must be treated simultaneously. If a patient only receives treatment for their addiction, their symptoms of SZA will cause them to relapse.

Medical Detox

The first step in treating comorbid schizoaffective disorder and addiction is medical detox. Before the individual can focus on therapy and counseling, they must rid their body of substances and overcome their withdrawal symptoms.

Depending on the type of drug the individual was addicted to, they may be provided with FDA-approved tapering medications to lessen their symptoms of withdrawal and prevent cravings from occurring. Typically, individuals spend anywhere from 5 to 14 days in a medical detox program.

Medication

The symptoms of SZA can be extremely difficult to deal with, often causing individuals to experience delusions of being healed before they complete treatment. As a result, individuals with schizoaffective disorder often respond best to treatment when they are taking medication.

The only FDA-approved medication for schizoaffective disorder is an antipsychotic medication named Invega. However, other medications work well in managing the symptoms of SZA. These medications include:

  • Antipsychotics for the schizophrenic symptoms
  • Antidepressants for the depressive symptoms
  • Mood stabilizers for the symptoms of mania

Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps individuals manage their symptoms of SZA and addiction by teaching them to recognize negative patterns of thought and utilize positive coping mechanisms.

Individuals with medication-resistant symptoms of schizoaffective disorder may be treated with a type of CBT known as cognitive behavioral therapy for psychosis (CBTp).

According to an educational manual on CBTp, “CBTp forms a collaborative treatment alliance in which patient and therapist can explore distressing psychotic experiences and the beliefs the patient has formed about these experiences, with the goal of reducing distress and disability caused by these experiences.”[4]

Finding Help for Schizoaffective Disorder and Addiction

Comorbid schizoaffective disorder and addiction can cause significant impairment in an individual’s ability to function in their daily lives. The often severe symptoms of schizoaffective disorder make it necessary for individuals to attend a residential dual diagnosis treatment program.

While finding a rehab facility that is right for you or your loved one can be difficult, Addiction Intervention Services has got your back. We can help you find a dual diagnosis rehab program that specializes in the treatment of SZA and addiction. Contact us today for more information on how to get started.

References:

  1. https://nida.nih.gov/drug-topics/trends-statistics/infographics/comorbidity-substance-use-other-mental-disorders
  2. https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Schizoaffective-Disorder
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6483113/.
  4. https://www.mirecc.va.gov/visn2/docs/CBTp_Manual_VA_Yulia_Landa_2017.pdf

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