The Teen Schizophrenia-Marijuana Connection

It’s very common for teens with mental illness to use drugs and drink. This is especially true for those who experience the more challenging psychological illnesses such as schizophrenia. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that 47% of those with schizophrenia also have an addiction to alcohol or drugs. This is about four times greater than the general public.

Perhaps it’s easy to understand why those with teen schizophrenia might want or even need to use drugs. The characteristic symptom of schizophrenia is psychosis, a severe experience of losing contact with reality and experiencing either hallucinations or delusions. Psychosis is a symptom of mind that, if an individual is prone to, will typically show up in the late teen years. It’s considered to be an experience of the mind (psyche) characterized by the loss of contact with reality and including either hallucinations or delusions. Taking drugs or drinking can be a way for a teen to self-medicate and reduce the effects of their symptoms.

Teen schizophrenia is a mental illness that affects thinking, feeling, movement, and behavior. It is a severe psychological disorder that can significantly affect a teen’s life. Its symptoms are clinically divided into three main categories: positive, negative, and cognitive. Typically, schizophrenia shows up in late adolescence. In order for a teen to be diagnosed, the following symptoms must last longer than six months.

  • Positive Symptoms: These are those symptoms that would not normally occur without the illness, such as certain sensations, beliefs, and behaviors. Typically, they are quite noticeable by others, particularly delusional beliefs or behavior that is in response to experiencing a hallucination. Positive symptoms include disturbances in thought, delusions, hallucinations, certain erratic feelings, changes in movement, unusual behavior, and psychosis.
  • Negative Symptoms: These symptoms are the absence of certain abilities. These can include low energy, low motivation, poor social skills, little facial movements, and less than lively physical movement.
  • Cognitive Symptoms: These are symptoms that refer to difficulty with concentration and memory, such as disorganized thinking, slow thinking, difficulty understanding, poor concentration, poor memory, difficulty expressing thoughts, and having a hard time integrating thoughts with feelings and behavior.

A recent study indicated that teens with a genetic predisposition for the illness and who use marijuana could face an increased risk of schizophrenic psychosis. Furthermore, there is some evidence that point to the use of marijuana triggering schizophrenic symptoms. This was the case for a young boy who used drugs during his adolescence. Now, 40, he looks back and realizes that the drugs he used during his teens might have triggered the onset of a psychotic break, which he experienced in college. He began to hear voices, experience delusional thinking, and suffered from anxiety, depression, and mania. During college, he admitted himself into a hospital and continues to manage his mental illness even today.

In addition to marijuana addiction, NAMI reports that most people with schizophrenia have an addiction to nicotine. In fact, they are three times more likely to be addicted to nicotine than the rest of the general population. Diane began smoking two years before she was diagnosed, and her use of nicotine has become more frequent since. It’s challenging for her because the nicotine seems to bring her a sense of relaxation and it seems to go well with having a drink. Meanwhile, her psychiatrist encourages her to quit with the warning that her psychotic symptoms might get worse during her withdrawal. Although Diane knows that it would be good for her to quit, she can’t bear the thought of having to deal with hallucinations in more intensity.

Because the majority of teens and adults with schizophrenia have a nicotine addiction, researchers are exploring whether they have a biological need. Sadly, nicotine can make antipsychotic medication less effective, which is the cause for many psychiatrists’ encouragement of their patients to quit smoking.

There are methods to quit smoking and to stop using marijuana to make the withdrawal process less challenging for those with teens schizophrenia. However, any teen (and adult) that would like to wean off nicotine (or any substance) should be carefully observed by their psychiatrist to monitor whether their reaction to psychotropic medication is changing.

Whether it’s an addiction to nicotine or alcohol or pain medication, a psychiatrist should know about it. The effects of an addiction can influence the effectiveness of the psychotropic medication as well as the ability to function. It is known that most teens and adults who have a diagnosis of schizophrenia can lead normal lives, particularly if a treatment plan has been developed and if that teen follows that plan.


Yoffee, L. (3/26/09). Schizophrenia and Substance Abuse: Everyday Health. Retrieved on May 19, 2014 from: