How to Treat Schizophrenia With Medication and Therapy
Schizophrenia is a brain disorder that manifests as a serious chronic mental health condition. Those with the disease suffer from a range of delusions, hallucinations, and they tend to have a loss of touch with reality. Currently, there is no cure and those with schizophrenia will have it for their lifetime. However, there are treatment options available to improve quality of life and day-to-day functioning. In this article, you will learn about how to treat schizophrenia. There are a variety of options to suit individual needs.
Understanding What Schizophrenia Is
Exactly what is schizophrenia? In the most basic terms, it is a condition that affects the brain and changes the way people think, behave, and perceive reality. Depending on the severity and whether or not treatment is pursued, schizophrenia can vary in its severity from person to person. Delusional episodes can be few and far between, or often. In general, schizophrenia is a very serious condition that can strongly hinder day to day function, not only for the patient, but also for their family and loved ones.
What Causes Schizophrenia?
It’s still not completely understood, but it seems the causes of schizophrenia can be traced to both environmental and genetic factors.
Key genes related to brain function have been traced to the development of schizophrenia. It’s thought that exposure to certain environmental toxins, stressful living situations, or nutritional deficiencies during critical phases of brain development play a role in the onset of schizophrenia.
The disease is also linked to genetics – if your family member has schizophrenia, you are at a greater risk of having it yourself (though by no means is it a guarantee that you will).
It’s estimated that 1 in 100 people suffer from schizophrenia. The disease typically appears in late adolescence or in your 20s, potentially as late as 30s (men usually develop symptoms in their early 20s, while women may show symptoms later on). Children can also have schizophrenia, though it is rare. By the time the symptoms appear, the disease has already been developing for some time.
Schizophrenia symptoms are often divided into two broad categories: positive and negative.
Positive symptoms are more outwardly visible and add something, such as hallucinations, unusual motor function and/or speech, and a general loss of touch with reality. On the other hand, negative schizophrenia symptoms take away; they can include loss of touch with reality, withdrawing from social settings, a lack of emotion, etc.
The following are all common symptoms of schizophrenia:
- Changes in vision, hearing, taste, and smell
- Hallucinations including tactile sensations and visions of things that are not real, hearing voices, etc.
- Paranoid and irrational delusions, such as thinking someone is watching you or “out to get you”, thinking you are someone else, seeing messages or hidden codes in things like song lyrics, feeling like you are feeling stalked or hunted, being convinced they have a health issue that is not real, etc.
- Abnormal speech or thoughts, difficulty maintaining a normal flow of conversation, seeming zoned out or blank
- Inability to concentrate
- Repetitive or abnormal movements
- Flattening, which refers to a person who seems to have no emotion
- Withdrawing from social settings or having difficulty with conversation
- Reduced speaking
- Memory trouble
- Difficulty sleeping
- Trouble processing or using information
- Trouble following through and completing tasks
Sadly, because schizophrenia can be so debilitating, people with the disease, especially if left untreated, are at increased risk of severe anxiety, depression, and even suicide. As is the case for those suffering from any mental illness, schizophrenia often comes with an increased risk of substance abuse.
Possible Treatment Options
Since schizophrenia is complex and not fully understood, so treatment can take time and trial and error. Many medications and treatment options exist to help those with schizophrenia manage their symptoms so they can have the ability to enjoy a fairly normal life. With all options, treatment will have to be kept up for a lifetime, as schizophrenia is a chronic condition.
In terms of medications, antipsychotics are the class of drug commonly prescribed to control hallucinations and delusions. The common ones are chlorpromazine, fluphenazine, and aripiprazole (a “second generation” newer option).
While antipsychotic medications can be hugely effective in managing hallucinations and delusions, they do not come without their serious risks and side effects. A doctor must always be closely involved and should check up on the patient regularly to monitor symptoms.
Antipsychotic medications often cause:
- Weight gain
- Rising blood sugar levels or cholesterol
- Changes in sex drive and menstrual cycles
- Dry mouth
There are serious consequences to stopping mediation suddenly (and in many cases, people with schizophrenia need to stay on them for life). So again, a doctor should always be heavily involved in any decisions made about starting, stopping, or adjusting schizophrenia treatment.
Various types of therapy may also be extremely helpful as part of a treatment plan for schizophrenia.
These types of therapy could include:
- Individual psychotherapy with a therapist
- Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT): helps address changes like hallucinations and changes in thinking
- Cognitive enhancement therapy (CET): helps patients learn to recognize their triggers and better regulate their thoughts
Family therapy can also be extremely helpful, not only to the patient, but in helping their loved ones learn to live with and support their schizophrenic family member.
In cases of severe symptoms or when people are non-responsive to traditional treatments, electroconvulsive therapy can be an option. In some of these cases, hospitalization is also required for the protection and safety of the person with schizophrenia.
Does one treatment option work better than another? Not necessarily, as every person is different and the best medication for one person may not work for another. This is why anyone dealing with schizophrenia needs to be in close communication with a trusted doctor, as well as likely a team of psychiatrists and therapists who can help prescribe the best treatment approach.
In many cases, this will mean a combined approach of medications and therapy will be necessary. It will be tailored to help each individual live the happiest and healthiest life possible.