Schizoaffective Disorder and Addiction


Schizoaffective Disorder and AddictionSchizoaffective disorder is an unusual and commonly misdiagnosed condition. Because of the mixture of symptoms, doctors and mental health professional often catch just the schizophrenia or just the mood disorder. It can take some time to really sort out all the symptoms and make a proper diagnosis.

Typical schizophrenia symptoms include hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized speech, thoughts, and behavior. Mood symptoms can include depressed mood, social isolation, negative thoughts, thoughts of harming oneself, sleep problems, despair, and some mania (for manic subtype). Although there have not been any official prevalence studies done, experts estimate that about one in every 200-500 people could develop schizoaffective disorder sometimes in their lives.

How Might Schizoaffective Disorder and Addiction Look to Friends and Family?

Schizoaffective disorder causes a lot of emotional pain along with confusing thoughts, isolation, and mood problems. It’s common for people with schizoaffective disorder to develop an alcohol or drug addiction while trying to self-medicate their pain or increase feelings of pleasure. Substance use can magnify their isolation, mood symptoms, and thought problems.

If some you knew had both problems, you would likely notice the strange schizophrenia symptoms (delusions, disorganized behavior, etc) as well as limited social interactions. They may seem to really lose touch with reality for periods of time. Drugs and alcohol often impair judgment and increase impulsively. They may seem frequently suicidal from both the dual diagnosis problems and the affects of their addiction.

How is Schizoaffective Disorder Treated?

Schizoaffective treatment has many components to it. Cognitive therapy is used to help reconnect thought processes and cope with emotions. If they are actively suicidal, they may need to be admitted to a hospital or inpatient psychiatric unit. Group and individual therapy supports them as they learn (or relearn) and maintain good social skills. Anti-depressants, mood stabilizers, and anti-psychotic medication are used in combination depending on the person’s symptoms.

Family involvement is an important part of treatment. Some people with schizoaffective disorder live with family members because they cannot care for themselves. Families greatly benefit from psychoeducation about the disorder and family therapy. Medication is a critical part of treatment and must be closely monitored.

How Does Schizoaffective Disorder Interact With Drugs and Alcohol?

Alcohol and marijuana worsen schizoaffective symptoms. Alcohol and drug addiction can interact in harmful, even deadly ways with anti-psychotic and anti-depressant medications. People with schizoaffective disorder can create a more devastating affect on themselves with smaller and less frequent amounts of alcohol or drugs than people without a mental disorder. Just think for a minute about all these dangerous factors put together. Getting proper dual diagnosis treatment is critical for someone in this situation.

There is bad news and good news about schizoaffective disorder and dual diagnosis. The bad news – people with schizoaffective disorder and an addiction are more likely to have relapses and are more likely to require hospitalization than those who abstain from drugs and alcohol. But wait, here’s the good news. The long-term prognosis looks good when these people follow long-term drug treatment programs along with other support systems for several years.

What Treatment and Support is Available for Schizoaffective Dual Diagnosis?

The experts at the Canyon are specifically trained to treat both mental disorders and addictions. The team works together to provide coordinated treatment for a challenging dual diagnosis like schizoaffective disorder and addiction. Ongoing support can be found on schizoaffective message boards and schizoaffective forums.

Your Thoughts

What’s been your experience with schizoaffective disorder and an addiction? Were you misdiagnosed at first, or did you get connected with the right kind of help right away. The more we learn about your experiences, the more we are able to provide high quality custom treatment for people with schizoaffective disorder. We truly appreciate your comments and stories.

Wendy Lee Nentwig

By Wendy Lee Nentwig
Guest Contributor

Articles posted here are primarily educational and may not directly reflect the offerings at The Canyon. For more specific information on programs at The Canyon, contact us today.

16 Responses

  1. Vegelen May 15, 2009

    In childhood my sister was slow to develop the natural skills most children would acquire by a certain age.
    She would resist leaving the buggy when she had the capability to walk.
    She was a difficult child to nurture, my mother tried hard to raise her well, but nothing could be done right for her- all her problems were my mothers fault, nothing was her own. She could be manipulative, breaking the rules to get what she wanted.
    She didn’t have much love for herself and not for other people.
    It was as though people had wronged her- but she had wronged other people.
    She was a depressed child, struggling at school and getting into low level trouble. She was attracted to hanging around with the wrong people, who were a bad influence on her, but she couldnt see it.
    The school couldn’t cope with her at times and she was threatened with isolation, unless her behaviour improved.
    I remember her as a child seeking the lions share of attention and never being happy. Stumbling from one poor choice to the next.
    She couldn’t wait to leave home and seek independence.
    She castigated my mum for years after leaving blaming everything on her.
    She was a neurotic personality.
    I tried to be a good brother to her but the more I tried the more she would end up hurting me.
    She hated me because I enjoyed and explored life- something that she couldnt do.
    If she put down everyone around her, the playing field was levelled.
    She was adept at manipulating people to get what she wanted because she didnt have the ability to do many things herself.
    Her illness started to become apparent in her mid 20’s, when she started to do a stressful job at work. The stress amplified and compounded her illness- she couldn’t cope.
    She went though numerous relationships, people couldn’t cope with her behaviour and ended up leaving.
    She started to get referred pain in her arms and upper body.
    Her arms and hands would feel cold, like they had poor circulation.
    She would complain of pins and needles and acute pain.
    She went to numerous doctors and specialists trying to get to the root cause of her problem.
    She started to become like a stressed cat on a hot plate that no one could deal with.
    She wanted to turn her partner into a dependent carer- to exert control on her environment.
    There was a sickness at times about her decisions, a level of unreality.
    She was insecure, unhappy and wanted to control her environment to make her feel better.
    We didnt know what was wrong and what could be done.
    We were at sixes and sevens.
    Her behaviour started to become more erratic.
    She started to make more extreme compulsive decisions.
    She became very selfish and self assured and started falling out with everyone. She could see the light and what needed to be done to straighten her life out.
    She kicked her latest partner out- he had stood by her and looked after her faultlessly.
    Her illness ended up causing a psychosis.
    She was hearing voices and was in turmoil.
    She ended up in a psychiatric unit bereft of reality.
    She could hear fellow patients sending her music on the radio, when nothing was audible.
    She showed signs of a duality of personality.
    She had different modes of personality and states of behaviour.
    Caring sharing, over compassionate- attracted to victims to cure them.
    Sometimes over confident and assertive.
    Sometimes ruthless.
    Sometimes manipulative.
    Adept at lying and controlling.
    Sometimes extremely caring.
    I just didnt know what is my sister- I felt like she told people what they wanted to her, but deep down inside she was an unhappy insecure mess.
    She ended up trying different medications to try to make her well.
    Nothing worked until she tried clopixal.
    That had an immediate response and she started to become well again.
    Her functioning returned, her acute paint went, the voices dissapeared
    all was well.
    Then after a period of time the drug efficacy stopped working.
    She started to decline, the dose was doubled but then she became more sluggish. Her meds were changed and she walked around in a stupor.
    Overmedicated her personailty was halved- a walking zombie.
    Undermedicated – she became neurotic.
    Her environment was falling apart as time progressed, everyone was propping her up.
    Her house became filthy and chaotic.
    She constantly lies and self deceives to cover up the realities of what her life is becoming.
    She knows where the issues are but prefers to escape to a world of untruth.
    The outside world would think she was a lazy, unmotivated, women.
    I know her to be a sick, manifestly neurotic individual, her mind riddled with demons that she wishes to escape but cant.
    Her neurotic mind causes her extreme anxiety which I believe causes the referred pain.
    At first her pain was caused by what other people did.
    Now she is accepting that she has an illness which is the root cause of everything.
    She has become a creature of the night, overtime.
    She can not bare the day- with its noises, activity and impulses.
    She prefers to function in the night- with its silence, inactivity and lack of noise.
    In the night there are no impulses to upset her neurotic mind.
    She tells me that she can function at night because of a higher dose of clopixal, but I think it is the environment that she chooses and not the drugs.
    Our health authority is currently in crisis changing psychiatrists like musical chairs.
    No one wants to stay- too much stress.
    Currently my sister is on a downward spiral.
    Her mind is destroying her.
    She is starting to self medicate with alcohol, nicotine and diazapan to null the pain, combined with her pills.
    Diazapan merely makes her more depressed when its affect wears off.
    Her swings in mood are becoming more erratic.
    She feels she knows “best in treating herself”.
    She is becoming more and more impulsive, more greedy, more I, I , I.
    The unhappier she feels, the more she eats, the more she drinks, the more anxious she becomes, the more diazepan she pops the more alcohol she drinks.
    Dont dare tell her what to do, she knows best.
    When she goes out shopping people think she is a vagrant or a thief.
    She looks like an overweight banshee, with extremely dry hair.
    She is a greek tragedy unfolding- the next Elvis Presley.
    Her family are powerless to stop the unfolding tragedy.
    What do you do when you’ve tried it all and given all you can give- to find it all thrown back in your face?
    This illness is terrible, it deprives the individual of self worth, causes confusion, leads individuals to make terrible choices.
    Damages family relations. Causes hurt.
    Over time individuals become more and more isolated.

  2. Eileen June 3, 2009

    I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and I completely agree with 98% of what that person said, above.

    I am alone, no friends, and I prefer it that way. I can’t trust anyone, not even my husband. I fear being left, even when there is no reason for fear.

    Sometimes I hear things when water is going. Sometimes I see ghosts. Sometimes I see shadow people.

    I also have bipolar disorder, which is horrible too. I spend money without thinking. I make reckless decisions. I don’t believe anyone loves me.

    It’s a horrible, horrible way of life.

    I’m an intelligent person. I have much potential locked away in my head. It’s being held captive.

    I must flee. Depression causes thoughts of death and suicide. I think about death every time I see a human being or animal.
    Everytime I’m in a crowded room, I see death. I see death before I ever see life, joy ot happiness. I feel nothing and it feels better than being stuck with any other feelings.

    I use drugs to numb myself and feel better. I smoke opium because it feels like I’ve taken twenty painkillers, and all I feel is pain.

    My medication makes me zoned out and feeling weird. I hate taking it but when I don’t take it, I feel the neurons in my brain, I actually hear them misfiring. I hear something in my head and it’s usually because I forgot to take the medicine. Sometimes I forget to eat. Sometimes I forget to go to the bathroom and end up almost not making it. Sometimes I forget where I am for a second and then panic because it seems I’m not in the right place, like I just suddenly appeared there.

    My thoughts are all over the place most of the time. I can’t concentrate. My memory is so bad that I can’t remember from hour to hour. What was I doing for three hours? The time passes and I don’t know it’s passed. These are big problems for me because I forget if I fed my daughter. I forget what time she has to go to school. I forget what time to pick her up from school. The teacher is getting angry with me, I’m sure, probably thinking I’m irresponsible.

    It’s a horrible way of life, but I know no other alternative.

    I sit in silence most of the day, staring into space, not making a sound. Sometimes the silence is broken by a phone call, or someone wanting to talk to me. I refuse to answer the phone when I’m feeling this way.

    I doubt everything in life. If something good is on the horizon, I doubt it’s really happening. I don’t know why. People say I’m too cynical. I think people need to shut up. They have no idea how horrible my life is. I pretend it’s not that bad.

    I can’t even function at home. I can write amazing things, appear composed, but I can’t remember to make my child breakfast. I get wrapped up in fantasy. I don’t want to be in this world, but then I get so amazingly depressed that I read the Obituaries just to cheer up. Maybe one day it will be my time. I imagine what death is like, every second of the day. What will it be like when I’m gone? The world will just go on, keep on turning, and I’ll be part of the Earth. This isn’t comforting. It makes me want to scream. I think about death and I start to panic. I get upset at the fact that we all die, but every person I see is a skeleton. They’re already in their casket, as far as I’m concerned.

    I have no impact on anyone’s life. I’m no role model. I don’t have one friend. I have people who want to associate with me but I keep them at arm’s length.

    I was beaten as a child, severely, and I think maybe the reason I have so many problems is that he hit me hard in the head repeatedly. All I remember is hiding under the covers in my bed, getting struck repeatedly in the face, closing my eyes and covering my face.

    I was sexually molested. I don’t remember anything. Sometimes I wonder if it even happened. I remember flashes of things. It’s rough.

    If you know someone who is mentally ill, please don’t just assume that they are evil or harmful. It feels terrible to be alienated because I’m different. I’m sure it feels that way for many mentally ill people out there.

    That’s all I have to say. Thanks for letting me vent.


  3. Mr Crook September 10, 2009

    i was diagnosed with this illness when I was seventeen. Everything thats been written hear rings entirely true to me. Shockingly similar patterns. For years I was actually paranoid that my friends wouldn’t believe me if I told them I had an illness, so ignored it. Ten years down the line, mostly unmedicated, things have began to get really out of control and quite quickly. I feel cursed. I will contribute to a fuller extent at some other point. Thanks x

  4. Hank McAdam September 24, 2009

    I was diagnosed with both schizoaffective disorder, and schizophrenia, (according to different psychiatrists) at age 18. About four years ago, I made the mistake of using heroin for the first time to cope with my symptoms. It didn’t take long to have a dual diagnosis. My problem now, though I’ve had a great deal of recovery and abstinence, is related to a recent relapse. Since my relapse (I am now in recovery again) it seems that my doctor treats me different. He doesn’t seem to recognize my schizoaffective disorder but implies that drugs are the whole problem (he does still prescribe anti-psychotic meds, though–). It hurts me that the stigma of addiction would influence my doctor to act as if maybe I have been faking schizoaffective disorder (with all the hell of hospitalizations, isolation, etc.!) and really am just an addict. He hasn’t said this directly, but through inuendo seems to be implying this. Remember, I’ve had mental illness since age 18, and addiction just four years ago (I am now almost 50 years old). Am I paranoid, or do you think doctors can get tunnel vision due to the stigma of one diagnosis over another? My problem is I need my mental illness focused upon and treated. I am getting treatment for addiction at a six month outpatient program.

    • Valeria W. May 5, 2011

      There are different schools of thought as to how co-occurring disorders – like addiction and schizoaffective disorder – should best be treated for optimum success. Some believe, as your doctor seems to, that treating drug addiction first and then focusing on the co-occurring disorder is the way to go. Others believe that a Dual Diagnosis rehab is the better choice, allowing the patient to receive treatment for both issues simultaneously. Even if the schizoaffective disorder is your primary diagnosis, if addiction is also an issue, it does require attention in treatment as it can exacerbate your primary disorder and cause complications as well. Please contact us at The Canyon to find out more about the Dual Diagnosis rehab option and how your personal situation would be addressed during treatment.

  5. Mary September 24, 2011

    I am a student studying to become a mental health counselor. I am working on a class project to help my fellow students (and myself) understand what it is like to have a combination of schizoaffective disorder and marijuana use. This posting has been very helpful to me in gaining understanding of this dual-diagnosis. I feel compelled to thank you all for taking the time and having the courage to share. If there is anything you feel it is important for me to include in my presentation to the class, I would very much like to hear from you. How the disorder developed and the marijuana use. How it feels when you use marijuana. Has any kind of counseling experience been helpful to you. Thank you so much, Mary

  6. Arthur November 6, 2011

    I am a sufferer of Schizoaffective Disorder and use Marijuana. I’ve been smoking pot on and off since I was 13 years old. I was diagnosed with schizophrenia at 19, had in hospital treatment for a few years before being discharged to a therapeutic community specialising in treatment of mental illness run by the budhist Rhokpa Trust. They treated me with the help of local NHS psychiatric services, who eventually changed my diagnosis. I made a full recovery (stabilised on 200mg of amisulperide and 200mg of Clozapine. I am currently studying for a Geography degree and hold down a high pressure job (chef) during the summer time.
    The story get’s bad here. I suffer from extreme social anxiety, make rash unwise decisions about drug and alcohol use, have moments of mania which cause me extreme embarassment and often wish to self harm (which I used to do). I am worried that whilst cannabis makes me feel relaxed, helps me wake up the next day and improves my ability to feel like I function normally socially the next day (as long as I don’t get high during the day). When high I feel a connection with the universe and have moments of epipheny, sometimes involving mild perceptual disturbance.
    My concern is that whilst the short term is enjoyable (and sometimes appears to inspire thoughts of deeper value) and the medium term is easier, that in the longer term cannabis will leave me with all the negative impacts of my illness, confusion, impared mental function and dependancy. I empathise with the comments above from families and sufferers of this illness. My story is not so different. With regard to the gentleman talking about his little sister’s tragic story, mine is earily simillar in the childhood to teenage stages. The experience of being overmedicated, confused and a night owl is also familiar.
    If anyone has any insight I would appreciate comments.

  7. Amy Young September 30, 2012

    I lived with a man who has been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. While it is a relief to know that I am not alone, this illness I am learning about (the hard way) is so tragic. He is alcoholic and unmediated, and I am utterly desperate to know how to help him. Every symptom listed he exhibits, but refuses to acknowledge. I’m searching for help.

    • donna March 20, 2013

      hey,can i ask what is it like to be with someone with this illness as i was also diagnosed with it and ive lost my son whos only 5 but fear im also going to loose my partner,really hope you can get the right help and support,for the both of you x

    • marg June 28, 2013

      you should read the book called ‘ I don t need help , I’m not sick’ its at the library 🙂

  8. Gledwood November 28, 2012

    Hallucinations, paranoia etc can be symptoms of depression or mania. Hearing voices, for example, does not necessarily mean a person has schizophrenia.
    I was only told I had schizoaffective rather than bipolar because he said I was hallucinating more than is usual in bipolar mania.
    Also when I looked up the issue in more detail months after the severe episode had faded, I found out there are certain symptoms considered more characteristic of schizophrenia than bipolar. If you still can’t cope after the severe mood episode has subsided and if eg you’re still hearing voices even if they’re quieter when the severe manic or depressed mood has gone it’s more likely to be schizoaffective than bipolar or depression.

  9. Rebecca January 8, 2013

    im only 14, diagnosed with depression but i knew there was more to it, i never felt normal,always had these weird thoughts inmy head that i was the odd one out, only 2 years ago i realised not everyone thought like this,
    I will hate my family,friends but i dont want to, i will talk bad about people in my head , I will ask for help, get given it and completely forget all my problems,i will laugh when you speak about my problems, i think about suicide twenty four seven, i’ve stole from family etc get violent, but i feel like that’s not actually me, they’res voices in my head telling me im weird and im not good enough, which is true, i am’n’t good enough.. i self harm, stopped a year ago started again 3 months ago, i used to be a loud confident girl that would always be joking in school, now i am the shy paranoid girl, who will see her friends on the street and actually cross the road to avoid them and hope they dont see, because i feel awkward/uncomfortable everywhere i go, teachers are proud of me for not behaving badly in school,little do they know i’ve just given up, when you have schizoaffective disorder you do not know what to think, you think too much into every little thing, things as small as why is milk named milk? things like you could take over the world, little things like yes or no answers, but does that really mean yes? what if yes really means no that really means this and that, bla bla bla it is a confusing,horrible mind to live in, your thoughts race and you canot read a book sometimes because youve so many thoughts in your head you cant focus on a few words, you cant tell anyoe you can only write it down because you cant put into words how you feel because sometimes you just dont even think your thoughts are you, you dont know which ones are real and which ones aren’t .. you hate yourself no matter how many times your told you are pretty, you think your not good enough and you call yourself a freak. I wouldnt wish this illness on my worst enemy. I thought i was the only one in the world with this illness, and it was only recently i found out it is a rare misdiagnosed illness, well there you go, thats how it feels, well thats half of it. its disgusting and horrible, im very suicidal but not very depressed atm, i just dont want to live, you dont see your future. I realise there are other people out there feeling the same way. you give up trying to tell people and people giving you help because you realise no one feels the way you do or understands it, they only understand the depression part. this is the first time ive ever wrote anything like this of how i feel, because now i know people might understand, you kinda get addicted to it, to an extent you sometimes dont really wanna get better.

  10. donna March 20, 2013

    Ive read a few of your emails on here and couldn’t help but cry,i was also diagnosed with having sqhizoeffective mood disorder,ive lost the will to go on with life,i dont want to wake up,get out of bed,not to sure what day of the week it is,nothing,feel so down,lost and confused and feel like my head is about to explode,feels like ive been asking for help for years but dont seem to be getting anywhere,feel so scared and alone and dont know where to go,start talking to myself out aloud and in my head cause i dont think anyone else understands,just want to be away from everyone and everything as nothing seems for real anymore and dont see myself getting back to the old happy me,ive become something i hate and dont even want to look in the mirror anymore,dont want to go out,be near anyone,nothing,its destroyed me in every single way and i dont see a way out

  11. Kathy May 6, 2013

    Donna, talk to your therapist. Don’t give up. I will pray for you. I understand what it’s like to have severe depression. Please don’t give up.

  12. donna November 3, 2013

    Thanks Kathy,,still trying to hang in there its far from easy though x

  13. Linda November 18, 2013

    Have a close friend with schizoaffective bipolar type II disorder. I have a very hard time with her delusions, and the fact that she is so negative and jealous (even of me). I try to overlook it, because she’s mostly a sweet, caring person. However, I have my own depressive disorder, and she can make me feel uncomfortable when any little thing may go right for me. She will ask how did I do this or that a ton of times, even after I explain it. She is very jealous of her family and other people. I understand that, but she seems consumed by it and very bitter. She seems unable to move on from past problems and tragedies, despite meds and therapy for many years. I have been advised not to be friends with her because she depresses me. Any thoughts on how to deal with my friend in a positive way, so as not to end the friendship?