Link Between Alcohol And Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a mental illness that has been linked to alcohol abuse and other forms of substance abuse. There is a strong link to alcohol use disorder, because people with schizophrenia often use it to mask symptoms of schizophrenia.

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Dr. Manish Mishra, MBBS

Medically Reviewed By: Manish Mishra, MBBS


According to Alcohol Research Current Reviews (ARCR), there is such a strong connection between schizophrenia and alcohol use disorder (AUD).

In fact, a person with schizophrenia is three times more likely to develop alcohol abuse issues than the general population.

There may be several reasons for this. The effects of schizophrenia on those with the illness may be causes of AUD — such as poor social skills or a negative environment.

People with schizophrenia may also be using alcohol to mask the symptoms of the illness. In other words, they use alcohol in place of medication. This commonplace with alcohol abuse and co-occurring disorders.

How Alcohol Affects Schizophrenia

Like other psychotic disorders, schizoaffective disorder affects the brain by, among other ways, dampening activity in certain parts of the reward circuitry of the brain.

Alcohol, on the other hand, has been found to have a dose-type relationship with dopamine. Drinking alcohol causes an increase in dopamine release.

Masks The Symptoms Of Schizophrenia

In this sense, alcohol consumption can mask the symptoms of schizophrenia by seeming to “fix” the part of the brain where schizophrenia has caused dysfunction.

Ironically and unfortunately, alcohol abuse can eventually cause symptoms similar to a psychotic mental health disorder through alcohol-induced psychosis.

Euphoric Effect Of Alcohol

Another way that alcohol appears to medicate the symptoms of schizophrenia is through the euphoric effect of intoxication.

The effects of alcohol can even be intensified through cigarettes. Nicotine use (as well as cannabis use) and schizophrenia are also strongly linked, and the use of cigarettes with alcohol can increase the euphoric feeling.

This can seem to medicate against the stresses that are caused by having to deal with a mental health disorder like schizophrenia.

Symptoms Of Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is one of the psychiatric disorders involving psychosis. Psychotic mental illnesses create a disconnect in a person’s brain with reality.

As a result, a person who has schizophrenia may:

  • show little or no emotion
  • lose interest in daily activities
  • be disinterested in self-care or healthcare
  • have difficulty paying attention or concentrating
  • struggle to accurately recall memories

These can result from psychosis related to schizophrenia.

Auditory Hallucinations

Hallucinations are a psychotic symptom of schizophrenia. A hallucination is anything that your senses perceive that is not real.

The person who has schizophrenia may commonly have auditory hallucinations, meaning that the person will often hear voices that are actually speaking.

Paranoid Delusions

Another common psychotic symptom of schizophrenia is delusions. A delusion is a strong belief in something that is not true or is irrational.

For people with schizophrenia, these beliefs can induce paranoia. They may believe that a person on the television is sending special messages to them that need to be hidden from others.

Signs Of Co-Occurring Alcoholism And Schizophrenia

People who have both schizophrenia and AUD will often display signs. Here are some things to watch for.


Isolation is one of the key signs that someone may be experiencing schizophrenia and alcohol abuse.

Both alcohol and mental illness affect a person’s ability to function in a job or to complete daily activities like grocery shopping.

As a result, that person will tend to withdraw and isolate from social interaction. The psychotic symptom of paranoia also encourages this.


As a person with both schizophrenia and AUD withdraws from social interaction, anxiety and depression can increase.

As those mental health issues increase, so does the possibility of suicidal thoughts and self-harm.


Aggression can also result from the interaction between co-occurring disorders. Alcohol can trigger irritability and anger as well as schizophrenia.

The two working in conjunction can cause aggression.

Treatment Options For Alcohol Addiction And Schizophrenia

Treatment options for someone with a dual diagnosis of alcohol addiction and schizophrenia generally fall into two categories that address both problems.

Those categories are pharmacological (treatment involving medication) and evidence-based (treatment involving counseling or therapy).

The most effective treatment centers for this are going to be those that use both categories of treatment within a dual diagnosis care program.

For people with severe symptoms of schizophrenia or alcohol use disorder, a residential or inpatient rehab program may be the most effective option.

Pharmacological Treatment For Alcohol Addiction And Schizophrenia

When treating someone with co-occurring substance abuse and mental illness, a major goal is to find medications that address one aspect without intensifying the other.

For alcohol use disorder, studies have indicated that naltrexone effectively lessens alcohol cravings. In contrast, disulfiram has been shown to potentially worsen psychosis if the individual has a predisposition to it through a mental illness like schizophrenia.

Pharmacological treatment for schizophrenia is best done through the use of clozapine, which is a second-generation antipsychotic medication.

First-generation antipsychotic medications have been shown to sometimes worsen the cravings for alcohol. Overall, there are vital options for medications for alcohol abuse that can be used.

Evidence-Based Treatment For Alcohol Addiction And Schizophrenia

Evidence-based dual diagnosis treatment for alcohol addiction and schizophrenia requires a treatment model called integrated treatment.

Integrated treatment, also called dual diagnosis treatment, develops a combined approach of models used to treat mental illness and addiction.

Being flexible and using different approaches requires a therapist who has a broad skill set and the ability to be flexible with different therapeutic models.

Find Dual Diagnosis Treatment Services At Bedrock Recovery Center

At Bedrock Recovery Center in Canton, Massachusetts, we are experienced in treating people who have both an alcohol use disorder and mental illnesses like schizophrenia.

Having both a mental illness and a substance use disorder can present many treatment challenges, but we understand the difficulties and work with our clients to create individually focused treatment programs.

Call our helpline today and we will guide you or your loved one to the right program to fit your needs.

  1. Alcohol Research Current Reviews
  2. Journal of Psychiatric Practice
  3. National Institute of Mental Health

Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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