Can You Become Schizophrenic From Drugs?

  • Medical Reviewer: Dany Paul Baby, MD
Medically Reviewed on 6/2/2022

What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a severe long-term mental condition that interferes with a person's ability to distinguish their thoughts from reality. Drug use may lead to the development of schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia is a severe long-term mental condition that interferes with a person's ability to distinguish their thoughts from reality. Drug use may lead to the development of schizophrenia.

Drug use may lead to the development of schizophrenia. 60% of people with schizophrenia have reported having abused drugs or alcohol in their lifetime.

While drugs don’t directly cause schizophrenia, abusing those that have psychoactive effects may increase your risk of developing the condition. Some of the drugs with psychoactive effects include cocaine, LSD, cannabis, and amphetamines.

Schizophrenia is a severe long-term mental condition that interferes with a person’s ability to distinguish their thoughts from reality.

Schizophrenia makes it difficult to do daily activities. This condition usually develops mostly in young adults. During the early stages of the condition, you may start to notice minor changes in your sleep, emotions, and thoughts. 

There are several types of schizophrenia such as hebephrenic, catatonic, undifferentiated, residual, simple, unspecified, and paranoid schizophrenia. Paranoid schizophrenia is the most common type of schizophrenia.

Main symptoms of schizophrenia

Generally, the symptoms of schizophrenia can be classified into two groups, positive and negative symptoms.

Positive symptoms of schizophrenia are symptoms that occur as an addition to reality such as: 

  • Delusions. These are beliefs that aren’t based on reality. 
  • Hallucinations. These happen if you see, smell, hear or feel things that aren’t there. 
  • Disorganized thinking. Jumbled thoughts may make it difficult for others to understand your train of thought.  

Negative symptoms are harder to notice. These symptoms include: 

  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of interest in your usual activities or hobbies
  • Lack of motivation
  • Problems in concentrating
  • Not wanting to leave your house
  • Changes in your sleeping patterns
  • Trouble having conversations with people
  • Feeling uncomfortable around people
  • Losing your normal thoughts and feelings

Cannabis and schizophrenia

Using cannabis (marijuana) does not lead to schizophrenia. However, people with schizophrenia are more likely to develop cannabis dependence or abuse than other people. Cannabis use is more common in younger people and individuals who’ve had their first episode of psychosis. Sometimes, the increased use of cannabis can be a sign of the development of schizophrenia.

All this is due to the psychoactive component of cannabis known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC produces the same psychotic effects in people without schizophrenia as those with the condition. These neurophysiological effects are the same as those that occur during psychotic episodes. 

Using cannabis from a young age can increase your risk of getting schizophrenia when you get older. This is also the case with individuals who abuse highly potent cannabis. This kind of abuse may increase your chance of developing other mental health conditions by up to five times.

Cocaine and schizophrenia

While cocaine by itself cannot cause schizophrenia, it’s associated with the progression of the condition in people who already have it. Cocaine use is linked to worsening symptoms of schizophrenia-like paranoia and hallucination

Some people diagnosed with schizophrenia have been found to have used cocaine within a year prior to the onset of symptoms of the condition. Cocaine causes issues with the functioning of the prefrontal cortex part of the brain, and results in some neurological signs of schizophrenia.

People with schizophrenia who abuse cocaine have a greater risk of becoming suicidal, going into hospitalization, and showing less compliance to schizophrenia medication.

Prescription medications and schizophrenia

Certain medications prescribed for different conditions can trigger psychotic episodes in people with schizophrenia. An example of prescription medications that can trigger psychosis is amphetamines such as Adderall

Amphetamines act by stimulating the central nervous system. They increase activity in certain parts of the brain, causing feelings of euphoria, focus, energy, and confidence. Other drugs that fall under the amphetamine classification are ecstasy and methamphetamine.

Amphetamines are also associated with reducing apathy, which is a symptom seen in people with schizophrenia.


Schizophrenia is the most disabling mental illness. See Answer

Dopamine and schizophrenia

Studies show that there’s a connection between overproduction of dopamine and schizophrenia symptoms. Drugs that cause the production of dopamine in the body can trigger psychotic episodes in individuals with schizophrenia.

Dopamine is known to affect memory. The loss of memory is one of the symptoms that appear with schizophrenia. Sometimes, people with schizophrenia may be thought to be on drugs due to the relation between dopamine and memory.

Serotonin and schizophrenia

Serotonin level changes in the body have been found to be linked to some of the symptoms of schizophrenia. Serotonin can trigger issues with cognitive processes, pain sensitivity, attention span, aggression, mood, sleep, sexual drive, appetite, and energy levels. These are symptoms seen in people with schizophrenia.

Common symptoms of drug use and schizophrenia

Sometimes, people with schizophrenia may be confused with people who have drug abuse issues. That’s because schizophrenia and drug use share some symptoms, including:

  • Delusions
  • Poor judgment
  • Poor concentration
  • Showing risky behavior
  • Withdrawal from society or social interactions
  • Hallucinations (visual and auditory)
  • Unpredictable behavior and mood changes
  • Disorganized thinking
  • Showing odd or inappropriate emotions

Why do people with schizophrenia use drugs?

Most people with schizophrenia use drugs due to reasons like genetic or environmental vulnerability, and certain neurobiological factors.

Some factors that cause genetic and environmental vulnerability include:   

  • Social and family influences
  • Certain personality traits
  • Trauma during early life
  • Poor function of the frontal lobe

Individuals in their early adulthood that experience their first psychotic episode are more likely to experiment with addictive drugs. Chronic stress increases the severity of psychiatric symptoms and substance abuse in people with schizophrenia.

Some neurobiological abnormalities cause psychological issues and are associated with addiction. People with schizophrenia are more vulnerable to drug addiction. This condition may affect a person's ability to fight their drug-seeking behavior.

Other causes of schizophrenia

Schizophrenia may be caused by drug use, psychological, and environmental factors.

Schizophrenia may also be caused by :

  • Genetics. You may be more susceptible to schizophrenia if a close family member has had the condition. However, that doesn’t mean you must get the condition.
  • Stress. You may develop schizophrenia if you experience stressful situations such as the death of a loved one, divorce, or other life-changing events. 
  • Brain structure. An underdeveloped brain from childbirth might lead to differences in the size of certain brain sections. Such issues can trigger mental conditions like schizophrenia. 
  • Prenatal environment. You might have been exposed to viruses or malnutrition before birth, particularly in the first and second trimesters. This may increase the risk of schizophrenia.
Medically Reviewed on 6/2/2022

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