Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that affects a person’s ability to understand reality. While compared to other mental health conditions, it doesn’t affect as many people in the general population. However, schizophrenia symptoms can be incredibly severe and debilitating.

What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that affects a person’s ability to understand and grasp reality. The condition affects how someone feels, thinks, and behaves.

Someone with schizophrenia may feel like they have lost touch with reality, making it hard to go about their daily lives.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5), the diagnosis of schizophrenia involves someone experiencing at least two of the following symptoms in six months:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Disorganized speech
  • Disorganized or catatonic behavior

Symptoms of Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a serious medical condition that can affect every aspect of a person’s life—from how they think and behave to how they physically get around every day.

There are three different categories of common symptoms associated with schizophrenia:

  • Psychological
  • Physical and Emotional
  • Cognitive

The symptoms experienced and their severity will often vary from person to person.

Psychological Symptoms

Psychologically, when someone has schizophrenia, they have a distorted way in which they view the world.

Other psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Hearing voices
  • Abnormal body movements (Movement Disorder)
  • Unusual or illogical thoughts (Thought Disorder)
  • Psychosis
  • Having a psychotic episode

Physical and Emotional Symptoms of Schizophrenia

Someone with schizophrenia will often struggle with physical and emotional symptoms. For instance, they might start to lose interest in activities. They might also no longer want to be around others, preferring seclusion.

Other physical and emotional symptoms of schizophrenia include:

  • Talking in a dull voice
  • Showing limited or no facial expression
  • Being socially awkward
  • Avoiding social interaction when possible
  • Low energy
  • Catatonia
  • Lack of motivation
  • Having trouble planning activities
  • Struggling to see an activity or a project through
  • Having trouble experiencing pleasure

These negative symptoms are often mistaken for other mental health conditions such as depression or social anxiety disorder.

Cognitive Symptoms

Schizophrenia can also affect a person’s cognitive ability and functionality. They might begin struggling to retain information or no longer be able to remember specific dates or events.

Other cognitive symptoms include:

  • Struggling to focus or pay attention
  • Having trouble processing and using information
  • Struggling to understand they are suffering from schizophrenia

Symptoms of Schizophrenia in Teenagers

While teenagers experience many of the same schizophrenia symptoms as adults, they are often more difficult to recognize at that age. These symptoms are more difficult to detect because they often mimic many of the same traits that teens exhibit.

Teens with schizophrenia are less likely to have delusions and more likely to have hallucinations compared to adults.

Schizophrenia Causes and Risk Factors

While the exact cause of schizophrenia isn’t known, certain factors might contribute to the development of the condition.

Genetics

Schizophrenia typically runs in families. If an immediate family member has schizophrenia, you are more likely to develop the condition.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a person is six times more likely to develop schizophrenia if there is a family history of the disease.

Environment

The environment that someone grows up in can play a major role in their mental development, including mental health disorders. Environmental factors such as poverty, stress, and danger can increase the risk of schizophrenia, especially in teens.

Research shows that exposure to viruses, toxins, and nutritional issues before and immediately after birth can increase the risk of schizophrenia.

Chemical Makeup of the Brain

A recurring theme amongst those with schizophrenia is an abnormality in their brain chemistry. Studies have shown that people who have schizophrenia are more likely to have a difference in the size of certain parts of their brain structure.

Substance Use and Abuse

According to the NAMI, some studies have shown a connection between mind-altering and psychotic drugs and the side effects those drugs cause and the development of schizophrenia, particularly during someone’s late teens

Schizophrenia Related Conditions

Several other mental health conditions, such as personality disorder, share many of the same characteristics as schizophrenia and might also be diagnosed in conjunction with it.

Some other conditions include:

  • Brief Psychotic Disorder
  • Delusional Disorder
  • Schizoaffective Disorder
  • Schizophreniform Disorder

Brief Psychotic Disorder

Brief Psychotic Disorder is a condition where someone experiences short, sudden periods of psychotic behavior. An episode can last anywhere from one day to one month; once the episode passes, all symptoms disappear entirely.

Much like schizophrenia, brief psychotic disorder includes the following symptoms:

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Disorganized speech
  • Disorganized or catatonic behavior

Delusional Disorder

Delusional disorder occurs when someone experiences false beliefs (aka delusions) for an extended period, and these delusions must persist for at least one month.

While delusions are one of the symptoms of schizophrenia, delusions are the only symptom someone suffering from delusional disorder will experience.

Schizoaffective Disorder

Someone suffering from schizoaffective disorder will experience symptoms of both schizophrenia and a major mood disorder, such as depression or bipolar disorder, at the same time.

To be diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, symptoms of both conditions must be present simultaneously. There also must be at least a two-week period where only schizophrenia symptoms exist.

Schizophreniform Disorder

Schizophreniform disorder is a form of schizophrenia. Someone suffering from schizophreniform disorder will experience many of the same symptoms as schizophrenia but for a shorter time, typically between one and six months.

If the symptoms of schizophreniform disorder last longer than six months, the diagnosis changes to schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia and Addiction

The symptoms associated with schizophrenia can leave the person delusional and with a false sense of reality. Schizophrenia symptoms can lead to issues in every aspect of a person’s life,  including work, school, relationships, and social situations.

They might turn to drugs or alcohol to counterbalance these symptoms and begin feeling normal again, even if it’s brief.

While taking these illicit substances in the short term might be effective, it can ultimately worsen their symptoms and increase the chances of developing an addiction.

Schizophrenia and Substance Abuse

While substance abuse alone can not cause schizophrenia, the symptoms associated with substance abuse and addiction can trigger psychotic episodes or even exacerbate schizophrenia symptoms.

Using psychoactive substances such as cannabis or LSD can increase the risk of psychotic episodes or schizophrenia symptoms at a higher rate than other illicit substances.

Schizophrenia Treatment Options

If you or a loved one has schizophrenia, it’s important to remember that multiple treatment options are available to help.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy addresses the psychological issues associated with schizophrenia, including behavioral, occupational, and social problems. Psychotherapy helps identify any contributing factors that might have led to schizophrenia and helps teach them how to manage their symptoms better.

Examples of psychotherapy conducted by a mental health professional that treats schizophrenia include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Cognitive Remediation Therapy (CRT)
  • Individual and group therapy
  • Family therapy

Electroconvulsive Therapy

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a form of brain shock therapy. During ECT, electrodes are attached to the person’s scalp, and a small electric shock is sent to the brain. During ECT, the person receives general anesthesia to manage discomfort.

ECT therapy usually involves 2-3 treatments a week. This type of therapy is designed to improve both mood and thinking.

Medications

The most common type of medication used to treat schizophrenia is antipsychotics. While antipsychotic medications don’t cure schizophrenia, they help relieve many symptoms, including delusions and hallucinations.

Antipsychotics that have proven to be effective in treating schizophrenia include:

  • Fluphenazine
  • Chlorpromazine
  • Loxapine HCL
  • Haloperidol
  • Thiothixene
  • Perphenazine
  • Trifluoperazine
  • Clozapine
  • Brexpiprazole
  • Aripiprazole
  • Asenapine
  • Paliperidone
  • Ziprasidone

Hospitalization

In extreme cases, a person with schizophrenia may require hospitalization.

Hospitalization might be necessary for someone who:

  • Can’t adequately take care of themselves
  • Is a risk to themselves or others
  • Suffers from extreme and severe symptoms
  • Is currently experiencing homelessness as a result of their condition

Find Help for Schizophrenia

If you or a loved one is struggling with Schizophrenia, it’s important to get help before symptoms worsen. You can reach out to your healthcare provider or a licensed treatment professional to discuss treatment options.

If you don’t have a healthcare provider or want a list of treatment professionals in your area, you can visit the SAMHSA online Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator.

Frequently Asked Questions About Schizophrenia

What are the symptoms of schizophrenia?

Symptoms of schizophrenia split into three categories: psychological, physical and emotional, and cognitive. Examples of these symptoms include:

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Disorganized speech
  • Disorganized or catatonic behavior
  • Struggling to focus or pay attention
  • Having trouble processing and using information
  • Showing limited or no facial expression
  • Low energy

What causes Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia can be caused by a variety of different factors, such as:

  • Genetics
  • Environment
  • Chemical makeup of the brain
  • Substance use and abuse

Is there a treatment for Schizophrenia?

There are several treatment options for schizophrenia, including:

  • Medication
  • Psychotherapy
  • Electroconvulsive therapy
  • Hospitalization
  • Support groups
Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction GuideWritten by:

Content Manager

Jessica Miller is a USF graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in English. She has written professionally for over a decade, from HR scripts and employee training to business marketing and company branding. In addition to writing, Jessica spent time in the healthcare sector (HR) and as a high school teacher. She has personally experienced the pitfalls of addiction and is delighted to bring her knowledge and writing skills together to support our mission. Jessica lives in St. Petersburg, FL with her husband and two dogs.

6 references
  1. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2020, January 7). Schizophrenia. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved December 13, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/schizophrenia/symptoms-causes/syc-20354443

  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Schizophrenia. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved December 13, 2022, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/schizophrenia

  3. What is schizophrenia? Psychiatry.org – What is Schizophrenia? (2020, August). Retrieved December 13, 2022, from https://psychiatry.org/patients-families/schizophrenia/what-is-schizophrenia

  4. Schizophrenia. NAMI. (n.d.). Retrieved December 13, 2022, from https://nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Schizophrenia

  5. World Health Organization. (2022, January 10). Schizophrenia. World Health Organization. Retrieved December 13, 2022, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/schizophrenia

  6. WebMD. (2022, January 21). Schizophrenia: Definition, symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment. WebMD. Retrieved December 13, 2022, from https://www.webmd.com/schizophrenia/mental-health-schizophrenia

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