The Shocking Link Between Schizophrenia and Drug Use

Schizophrenia and drug use: Schizophrenia is a severe chronic mental disorder that alters someone’s mood and behavior. The symptoms that characterize the condition are delusions, disorganized thinking, abnormal motor skills, and, most famously, hallucinations.

The causes of schizophrenia aren’t entirely understood, but research suggests it’s a complex interplay between someone’s genetics and environment. Some predictive markers are family history of the disorder, prenatal exposure to viruses or malnutrition, and traumatic life events. One underappreciated cause receiving more recognition is the link between schizophrenia and drug use.

Research suggests that psychoactive substances may trigger schizophrenia in vulnerable individuals. People with schizophrenia are more likely to use drugs than the general population, and drug use can exacerbate the disorder’s symptoms. This combination is a problem because schizophrenia is a uniquely debilitating mental disorder that can profoundly impact an individual’s life, making it difficult to hold down a job, live independently, maintain relationships, or exist in a shared reality.

At GateHouse Treatment, we believe in staying ahead of the curve when understanding how drugs impact the brain. Cognitive health is an integral part of holistic wellness and sober living. Before taking any drug, it’s important to understand the risks associated. This article will explore the link between schizophrenia and drug use, the condition, and which drugs may trigger it.

1. What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is sometimes described by those who suffer from it as living within a maelstrom of thoughts. The symptoms come in three categories: positive, negative, and cognitive. Positive symptoms are experiences added to a person’s perception, while negative symptoms are experiences taken away from a person’s perception. Cognitive symptoms affect a person’s thinking, memory, and decision-making abilities.

One of the most well-known symptoms of schizophrenia is the presence of hallucinations. Hallucinations can occur in any of the five senses, but auditory hallucinations, or hearing voices, are the most common. These voices can be critical, demeaning, or commanding and cause significant distress to the person experiencing them. The next most frequent type of hallucination is visual. Those with schizophrenia see people, animals, religious figures, family members, and other things that aren’t there. Other hallucinations include olfactory, tactile, and gustatory hallucinations.

For the afflicted, the experience of hearing voices or seeing things that others do not can be frightening and isolating. The next challenge to people with schizophrenia is false delusions and beliefs that have no basis in reality. These come in many forms and are difficult to challenge, including beliefs that they are the focus of ongoing persecution, beliefs that someone is in love with them, beliefs they are being contacted and sent signs, or beliefs in grandiosity. Negative symptoms, such as a lack of motivation and social withdrawal, can also make it difficult for a person with schizophrenia to engage in everyday activities.

An important distinction to make is between psychosis and schizophrenia. Psychosis is a general term used to describe symptoms that can occur in various mental health disorders. It refers to a state in which a person experiences a break from reality. On the other hand, schizophrenia is a chronic condition that typically develops in the late teenage years or early adulthood.

While schizophrenia is a type of psychosis, not all psychosis is due to schizophrenia. Other mental health disorders, such as bipolar disorder and severe depression, can cause psychosis. Drugs can also induce psychosis without causing schizophrenia.

Currently, there is no known cure for schizophrenia. However, treatment options such as medication, therapy, and support can help manage symptoms and improve the quality of life for individuals with schizophrenia.

2. The Link Between Schizophrenia and Drug Use

Numerous studies have investigated the relationship between drug use and schizophrenia. Most evidence suggests that drug use, especially cannabis use, may increase the risk of developing schizophrenia or exacerbate the disorder’s symptoms in individuals already diagnosed with the illness. The following is a list of drugs and their relation to schizophrenia.


  • Cannabis: In particular, cannabis is a risk factor for developing schizophrenia. The drug can cause acute psychotic symptoms in some people, and long-term use is consistently associated with an increased risk of developing schizophrenia later in life. A study published in the Lancet Psychiatry found that people who use cannabis regularly are more likely to develop schizophrenia than those who do not use the drug. The study also found that the risk increased with the frequency and amount of cannabis use. Additionally, there is a positive correlation between cannabis use during adolescence and developing the symptoms of schizophrenia.
    The link between cannabis use and schizophrenia is likely due to the drug’s effects on the brain. Cannabis contains a psychoactive compound called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which can disrupt the normal functioning of the brain’s endocannabinoid system. This system plays a crucial role in regulating mood, cognition, and behavior, and studies often implicate its dysfunction in the development of schizophrenia.
    Another troubling development is the widespread use of synthetic cannabinoids to skirt federal regulations. Synthetic cannabinoids are a class of designer drugs chemically engineered to mimic the effects of the natural cannabinoids in the marijuana plant. However, they are much more potent and have unknown effects. Current research suggests that their chronic use positively correlates with schizophrenia and psychosis. This new brand of drug, often called “K2” or “Spice,” is unregulated and requires further research to understand its troubling effects on the brain.

  • Amphetamines: Amphetamines are drugs used to treat conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, they are also commonly abused as recreational drugs due to their stimulant effects.
    Several studies have linked amphetamine use to an increased risk of developing schizophrenia. The exact mechanisms by which amphetamines increase the risk of schizophrenia are not fully understood. However, some scientists believe these drugs can cause changes in the brain’s dopamine system, which is involved in reward, motivation, and movement. Studies regularly suspect dopamine dysfunction in the development of schizophrenia, and amphetamines may trigger or exacerbate this dysfunction.

  • Cocaine: While this stimulant is regularly associated with an increased risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, the exact nature of this relationship is still not fully understood.
    Several studies have investigated the effects of cocaine use on brain structure and function, and some have found that chronic cocaine use can lead to changes in brain matter. For example, a 2014 study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology found that chronic cocaine use was associated with reduced gray matter volume in several brain regions, including the prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex. These regions are involved in executive functioning and decision-making, and their dysfunction is related to schizophrenia.
    Other studies have found that cocaine use can alter the brain’s dopamine system’s structure and function. Like amphetamines, this may exacerbate or trigger schizophrenia in people with a genetic predisposition.

It is important to note that not everyone who uses drugs will develop schizophrenia. The link between drug use and the disorder is complex; other factors, such as genetics and environmental factors, also play a role. However, the evidence suggests that drug use, particularly chronic addictive behavior, raises the chances of triggering this life-altering disorder.

GateHouse Treatment and Mental Health

Chronic drug use affects every part of someone’s life. It damages relationships and day-to-day health and can trigger devastating mental disorders like schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder. If you are struggling with drug abuse or feel close to the brink, it’s never too late to seek help.

At GateHouse Treatment, we believe in treating the full person, not just a narrow set of symptoms. We offer top-of-the-line comprehensive care and partner with sober homes to give you a stress-free recovery environment. On top of partial hospitalization and outpatient therapy, we also offer innovative forms of wellness, like biofeedback machines and adventure therapy, to take control of your life.

Don’t risk the long-term damage of drug addiction. Pick up the phone and call (855) 448-3588 or reach out through our website to work towards a better future for yourself or your family.

GateHouse Treatment Editorial Staff
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