The Relationship between Antipsychotic Medication and Addiction

The Relationship between Antipsychotic Medication and Addiction

Antipsychotic medications are used to treat psychosis, mania and depression symptoms that result from mental health concerns such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The Rethink Mental Illness factsheet on antipsychotics explains that these drugs help individuals with mental health disorders feel more in control of their lives and their symptoms and work by changing how dopamine affects the brain.

Finding the right antipsychotic medication involves working with doctors and trying different doses and types. While antipsychotics are not typically addictive, users may struggle with addiction to other drugs as a result of their mental health concerns or in response to the side effects of antipsychotics.

Antipsychotic Side Effects

Side effects of antipsychotic use may include the following:

  • Shakiness or other movement-related side effects
  • Sexual problems related to hormonal changes
  • Restlessness or sleepiness

Individuals may choose to self-medicate side effects rather than work with a doctor to find the right medication or dosage or allowing the body to adjust to the presence of antipsychotic drugs. They may turn to sedatives such as benzodiazepines or opiates to calm shakiness or restlessness, or they may try using Ritalin or cocaine to combat feeling of sleepiness. The results of combining medications and other drugs are unpredictable and can reduce the efficacy of the antipsychotic medication while increasing the risk of severe side effects or overdose. Misusing drugs increases the likelihood of addiction, and addiction will complicate existing mental health concerns.

Mental Health and Addiction

Addiction issues and bipolar disorder frequently co-occur, and individuals with schizophrenia are at increased risk for addiction. According to the article “Schizophrenia and Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorder” (2007) in the American Journal of Psychiatry, up to 53% of the schizophrenic population abuses marijuana, and rates of other drug use are similarly high.

Reasons for this co-occurrence may include the following:

  • Substance use may cause an onset of symptoms in individuals with mental health disorders
  • Poor social or cognitive skills resulting from mental health disorders may lead to substance use
  • Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder may expose individuals to poverty or substance-using peers, two risk factors for substance abuse
  • Self-medication of symptoms related to mental health disorders
  • Individuals with mental health disorders do not experience “normal” reward systems and may seek chemically-induced feelings of reward instead

Addiction treatment should explore and address these potential causes of substance abuse, as well as provide integrated and Dual Diagnosis care for the addiction and the co-occurring mental health concern.