Research on schizophrenia has been conducted for nearly a century. Many stigmas in mental health stem from the seemingly unpredictability and misunderstanding of mental health conditions. Schizophrenia is by in large one of the most misunderstood mental health condition because of the fear associated with the symptoms. While the description of a schizophrenic can be intimidating, the actual condition varies greatly among those with the diagnosis. Many schizophrenics develop symptoms in early adulthood. Like other mental health conditions, those affected often self medicate with drugs and alcohol. This self medicating tendency may even start unintentionally. The most popular co-occuring or dual diagnosis for schizophrenics is substance abuse. Another link between schizophrenia and other behavioral disorders is also notable. With new research and better understanding of the processes in the brain, a better understanding of treatment can occur and we can begin to dispel the myths of these disorders.
Schizophrenia: What is it?
Schizophrenia is a mental health condition that is caused by a series of genetic and environmental factors. The main processes involved in the development of this condition is neurological, meaning that it is a condition that is rooted in the processes of the brain. The symptoms vary from case to case but some of the most common are:
- Disorganized Thought Processes
- Flat Affect
- Neglecting Personal Hygiene
- Memory Problems
- Unable to Focus
This particular disorder is more common in males. Men are often diagnosed at a younger age in comparison to Women. Schizophrenia effects people of all ethnic backgrounds. While it doesn’t impact a large portion of the population, there are still about 1% of people in the United States that are diagnosed each year. The onset of symptoms usually begin around early adulthood from 18 years old to 30 years old.
The causes of schizophrenia are deeply rooted in genetics and neurology. Studies conducted on twins have noted differences in brain structure. In fact, the reason the diagnosis of schizophrenia comes in early adulthood is that the brain has completed the processes for development. At that time, the maturation of the areas of the brain that are effected by the disorder begin to exhibit the symptoms for diagnosing the condition. The range in age will be different for every case, given their specific and individual development process.
Schizophrenia and Substance Abuse : Dual Diagnosis
The process for dual diagnosis in schizophrenia cases can involve a few different disorders. One of the most common co-ocurring disorders is substance abuse. While self medicating is one explanation of substance abuse, that isn’t always the intention. Some find substances through teenage experimentation and whether they are conscious of the effects or not, they find a certain level of comfort in substances and in return they continue the abuse. The reward systems in our brains are very strong. Even if we don’t realize it, the reward your brain receives when it is suppressing negative symptoms is so strong that it creates the bond of addiction. Many people with schizophrenia abuse nicotine and cigarettes. In fact, on statistic states that 75% of schizophrenics are smokers. The scientific approach to this statistic explains that our brains have a specific nicotine receptor. In the process of developing the disorder of schizophrenia, many of the negative side effects from treatment or the disorder itself find comfort in activating the nicotine receptors.
Nicotine’s effect on the brain may alleviate symptoms of schizophrenia by relieving symptoms including auditory gating and it decreases the eye movements that are a symptom of some schizophrenics. The use of nicotine can also improve some cognitive functions for schizophrenics by the consistent supply to the brain. Because the effects of “chain smoking” are a continuous feed, these areas of the brain are constantly stimulated. Even if the administration of nicotine is an effective temporary treatment, it isn’t necessarily advised or safe. In fact, those that abuse substances with a co-occuring mental health condition are less likely to seek the proper professional help and may find themselves in a deteriorating medical condition in addition to their mental state. Other studies point to higher rates of suicide among those that don’t seek the right treatment for their mental health conditions. It is especially important for those effected by severe cases of mental health conditions to find the right professional treatment.
The best success for people effected by substance abuse and schizophrenia is a professional treatment program that addresses each area individually and makes conscious efforts to coordinate treatment. Abusing substances can decrease the medical condition of clients and make treatment more difficult. While living with a severe mental health condition is possible, it is only safe with the right professional team with medical, psychological and community structure to ensure that the person is receiving enough support to succeed.
Residential treatment facilities, like the one at New Roads Behavioral Health, provide this kind of support. Even the most severe cases can be improved with residential treatment and outpatient programs to help integrate patients back into a more realistic day to day routine.
Other co-ocurring or dual diagnosis areas for those affected by schizophrenia include bi-polar disorder, depressive disorders, personality disorders and suicidal tenancy. Because of the strong genetic factors for developing schizophrenia involve areas of the brain that are essential for behavior, executive function, decision making and through processes, these other diagnosis areas are closely related. When diagnosed correctly, the processes of treating co-ocurring disorders through dual diagnosis is very effective. Treating the whole person is one of the only ways to ensure a successful recovery process.
Common Schizophrenia Myths
There are many myths surrounding the diagnosis of schizophrenia. Let’s learn some of the myths and what schizophrenia is actually like to live with.
1. Myth: Schizophrenia means that you cannot live independently.
While the diagnosis of schizophrenia is very serious, it is possible for those with the diagnosis to live some-what normal lives. Many with the diagnosis have learned to manage symptoms with therapy, prescription medications and by living a healthy lifestyle. There are stories of people living with schizophrenia that have college degrees and successful professional careers. One article that outlines 4 different people living with schizophrenia gave a little insight as to what life looks like for those effected. Learn more about each of their stories on the Huffington Post: Living With Schizophrenia: Four People With the Illness Tell Their Stories.
2. Myth: People with schizophrenia have multiple personalities.
While multiple personality disorder is separate from schizophrenia, WebMD reports a study found that 64% of Americans believed them to be one in the same. Schizophrenics experience a separation from reality. There are many different kinds of schizophrenics. They can be catatonic, disorganized, paranoid, residual, and undifferentiated. To earn the diagnosis, they usually experience hallucinations, delusions, or disorganized speech that last longer than 6 months.
3. Myth: Schizophrenics are violent and dangerous.
Although symptoms are unpredictable, people with this condition are not usually dangerous or violent. Many have disorganized thoughts but don’t act on them. Those with paranoia often think that other outside sources are trying to harm them or belittle them, but that doesn’t necessarily make them a threat to anyone. This myth is often dramatized in movies but it is absolutely a fallacy and gross generalization. If people with schizophrenia do act out, it is usually caused by substance abuse or other undiagnosed conditions.
4. Myth: People with schizophrenia are not smart.
Perhaps one of the most popular examples of brilliance associated with schizophrenia is the story of John Forbes Nash. His story was the main inspiration for the movie “A Beautiful Mind” where Russel Crow acted as Nash. A brilliant mathematician, Nash helped develop game theory, geometry and partial differential equations. He worked at Princeton University and earned the Nobel Prize in 1994. Although he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, he had a successful career and family.
While some people do exhibit spells of intelligent clarity, the opposite can also be true where those with schizophrenia sit still and don’t talk for extended periods of time. This doesn’t mean that they are not smart, however. Schizophrenia effects many brain functions and can impair communication.
5. Myth: You can’t recover from schizophrenia.
Many schizophrenics experience an onset of symptoms in early adulthood. With a healthy lifestyle, early diagnosis and proper treatment, 25% of those diagnosed can recover almost completely. About 50% of those with the diagnosis can experience an increase in function after learning to live with the diagnosis.
New Research on Schizophrenia Today
There are many breakthroughs with schizophrenia research that have occurred just this year. Teams of scientists have discovered the specific genetic markers that are responsible for the development of schizophrenia. This specific team of genetics have been identified and researched and for the first time in the history of this disorder, scientists have a more solid scientific understanding of the root of schizophrenia. The link to the immune system in the body provides crucial evidence for the development of schizophrenia.
A team of scientists led by Steve McCarroll, Ph.D., of the Broad Institute and Harvard Medical School, Boston, leveraged the statistical power conferred by analyzing the genomes of 65,000 people, 700 postmortem brains, and the precision of mouse genetic engineering to discover the secrets of schizophrenia’s strongest known genetic risk. C4’s role represents the most compelling evidence, to date, linking specific gene versions to a biological process that could cause at least some cases of the illness.
“Since schizophrenia was first described over a century ago, its underlying biology has been a black box, in part because it has been virtually impossible to model the disorder in cells or animals,” said McCarroll. “The human genome is providing a powerful new way in to this disease. Understanding these genetic effects on risk is a way of prying open that block box, peering inside and starting to see actual biological mechanisms.”
McCarroll’s team, including Harvard colleagues Beth Stevens, Ph.D., Michael Carroll, Ph.D., and Aswin Sekar, report on their findings online Jan. 27, 2016 in the journal Nature.
A swath of chromosome 6 encompassing several genes known to be involved in immune function emerged as the strongest signal associated with schizophrenia risk in genome-wide analyses by the NIMH-funded Psychiatric Genomics Consortium over the past several years. Yet conventional genetics failed to turn up any specific gene versions there linked to schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia’s Strongest Known Genetic Risk Deconstructed – National Institutes of Health
With this evidence, new treatments specific to the genetic markers in each case of schizophrenia can be treated more efficiently with less harmful side effects. Although there may never be a “cure” this information can be used to make treatment better for future generations.
Genetic evidence can provide a nice map of this disease, but erasing it is impossible without erasing the person. The genetic make-up of a person and the biology of their brain is their identity. Instead of viewing this with a romantic notion for a cure, it should be a testament to better understanding what the future of mental health will be. There have been many schizophrenic cases in history that have provided genius thought processes and become the topic of hollywood dramatizations. While looking at these cases with rose colored glasses can help shed some light on the positive sides of mental health, we also need to keep a realistic look at people. Mental health is not something that is right or wrong, it simply is. Erasing the stigma on mental health isn’t something that can be done overnight. Instead, educating people on what these conditions look like can increase understanding.
Schizophrenia is one of the most misunderstood mental health conditions because it has been generalized and feared. The symptoms that come along with schizophrenia can be confusing, frightening and hard to understand. With the right care and treatment, those that live with schizophrenia can still live fulfilling lives. Substance abuse and addiction are behaviors that often fall in line with a number of different mental health conditions. In the world of psychology there is a saying that, “all behaviors make sense”. Following that rationalization, there are many ways to explain behaviors. Once a better understanding is reached, the stigma surrounding these mental health concerns can be decreased. Treatment for schizophrenia is just one of the many programs that are provided by New Roads Behavioral Health.
If you or some on that you know are having trouble with substance abuse, addiction or more severe mental health concerns, please look for professional help from treatment programs that have the right support team for you. We’re here to help: 888-358-8998.