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  • Is There A Link Between Alcohol Use Disorders & Schizophrenia?

    Is There A Link Between Alcohol Use Disorders & Schizophrenia?

    People with schizophrenia experience social, behavioral, and cognitive struggles. It is common for people with schizophrenia to use alcohol to cope with these challenges. In fact, people with schizophrenia are three times as likely to develop an alcohol use disorder

    Schizophrenia is a serious mental health disorder that can be distressing for the individual and cause numerous challenges with daily life. Schizophrenia is also associated with higher rates of a co-occurring alcohol use disorder.

    Genetics, self-medication, and brain structure are some of the possible causes of a dual diagnosis. Comprehensive treatment, which may include medication and therapy, can significantly improve the quality of life. 

    Symptoms Of Schizophrenia

    Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that affects someone’s sense of reality and disrupts thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. 

    According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), schizophrenia symptoms can be categorized as follows:

    Psychotic Symptoms

    Psychosis is characterized by an altered sense of reality that may result in hallucinations, delusions, and unusual thoughts. Psychosis can severely impact functioning and may result in frequent hospitalizations if left untreated. 

    Psychotic symptoms may include:

    • abnormal behaviors
    • distorted view of self and the world
    • unusual thinking
    • impaired impulse control
    • disjointed speech
    • hearing or seeing things that are not there
    • paranoia
    • false beliefs

    Negative Symptoms

    Negative symptoms refer to a lack of healthy mental functioning. This includes being socially withdrawn and loss of interest in daily activities. 

    Negative symptoms may also include:

    • difficulty showing emotion
    • decreased speaking
    • decreased motivation
    • difficulty starting or finishing activities

    Cognitive Symptoms

    Cognition refers to the way we think, learn, and store information. People with schizophrenia may have impaired attention, concentration, and memory. 

    Cognitive symptoms also may include:

    • difficulty making decisions
    • trouble processing information
    • difficulty focusing
    • forgetting important information

    Substance abuse is common in individuals with schizophrenia. They may self-medicate to cope with these symptoms or side-effects of antipsychotic medication. However, alcohol and other drugs are more likely to worsen symptoms and may trigger severe psychotic symptoms. 

    Symptoms Of Alcohol Use Disorder 

    Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a disease of the brain characterized by an uncontrollable urge to drink alcohol despite negative consequences. Alcohol use disorder can interfere with daily functioning and can lead to serious health problems.  

    Symptoms of AUD may include:

    • inability to control the amount you drink
    • unsuccessful attempts at stopping alcohol abuse
    • intense cravings
    • socially withdrawn 
    • engaging in high-risk behaviors
    • increased tolerance 

    Dual Diagnosis Risk Factors Of Schizophrenia & AUD

    If someone with schizophrenia becomes addicted to alcohol, they may have a dual diagnosis. People with schizophrenia are three times as likely to develop an alcohol use disorder, compared to the general population. 

    There is no single cause of alcohol use disorder or schizophrenia. Instead, they are likely caused by a combination of factors that impact the development of both disorders.


    Both AUD and schizophrenia are associated with a family history of the disorder. However, researchers have found that there is not one specific gene that causes it. Several different genes exist that can increase the risk, especially when other risk factors are involved.


    An interaction between genetics and environmental factors can increase the risk of developing both disorders. Stressful environments, poverty, and trauma increase the risk of experiencing a psychotic episode or turning to substances to cope. 

    Brain Structure

    Researchers have determined that people with alcohol addiction and schizophrenia have similarities in brain structure and function. Both disorders are associated with abnormalities in areas associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine. 

    Similarities in brain function can reinforce the rewarding effects of alcohol. Alcohol use can also lead to impaired thinking and poor impulse control, similar to schizophrenia. People with schizophrenia who drink alcohol can trigger the onset of a psychotic episode. 

    Dual Diagnosis Treatment

    Comorbidity (co-occurring disorders) often requires long-term treatment and a commitment to aftercare. Dual diagnosis treatment involves a wide range of treatment providers, including psychiatrists, psychologists, and addiction specialists. 

    Both inpatient and outpatient treatment programs provide effective services that can minimize the risk of relapse and improve quality of life. 

    Treatment plans are individualized but dual diagnosis treatment options often include:

    If you or a loved one would like more information on dual diagnosis treatment, please contact Ark Behavioral Health today. 

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2023 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    Mayo Clinic - Alcohol Use Disorder
    National Institute Of Mental Health (NIMH) - Schizophrenia
    National Institute On Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism (NIAAA) - Co-Occurring Alcohol Use Disorder And Schizophrenia
    National Library Of Medicine - Alcohol Use Disorder and Schizophrenia or Schizoaffective Disorder

    Medically Reviewed by
    Manish Mishra, MBBS
    on August 10, 2022
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