Commentary Article - Journal of Drug and Alcohol Research ( 2023) Volume 12, Issue 3

Opioid Dependence in Schizophrenia: Understanding the Co-occurrence and Implications

Marcos Altable1*, Juan Moises de la Serna2, Emilio Diaz-Moreno3 and Muhammad Akram4
1Department of Neurology, Neuroceuta, (Virgen de Africa Clinic), Spain
2Department of Education, International University of La Rioja (UNIR), Spain
3Department of Neuropsychology, Neuroceuta, (Virgen de Africa Clinic), Spain
4Department of Eastern Medicine, Government College University, Spain
*Corresponding Author:
Marcos Altable, Department of Neurology, Neuroceuta, (Virgen de Africa Clinic), Spain, Email:

Received: 29-Mar-2023, Manuscript No. JDAR-23-99437; Editor assigned: 31-Mar-2023, Pre QC No. JDAR-23-99437 (PQ); Reviewed: 14-Apr-2023, QC No. JDAR-23-99437; Revised: 19-Apr-2023, Manuscript No. JDAR-23-99437 (R); Published: 26-Apr-2023, DOI: 10.4303/JDAR/236234


Opioid dependence is a serious concern in individuals with schizophrenia, as the co-occurrence of these 2 conditions presents unique challenges in diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. This article provides an overview of the relationship between opioid dependence and schizophrenia, exploring the factors contributing to their co-occurrence, potential mechanisms underlying this comorbidity, and evidence-based interventions. By understanding the complexities of this dual diagnosis, mental health professionals can develop comprehensive strategies to address both conditions effectively.


Opioid dependence; Schizophrenia; Comorbidity; Co-occurrence; Dual diagnosis


Opioid dependence is a severe public health concern that affects millions of individuals worldwide. Among the diverse population of individuals diagnosed with mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, the co-occurrence of opioid dependence poses unique challenges. Opioid dependence and schizophrenia are 2 distinct but interconnected conditions that pose significant challenges to individuals, healthcare professionals, and society as a whole. Schizophrenia is a chronic psychiatric disorder characterized by impairments in perception, cognition, and social functioning. Opioid dependence, on the other hand, is a chronic condition characterized by compulsive drug-seeking behavior and withdrawal symptoms when opioids are discontinued.


Prevalence of opioid dependence in schizophrenia

Individuals with schizophrenia have a higher prevalence of substance use disorders, including opioid dependence, compared to the general population. According to a study by Carra and colleagues (2019), the lifetime prevalence of opioid dependence among individuals with schizophrenia ranges from 5% to 50%, depending on the study population and methodology employed [1]. The co-occurrence of these disorders has been well-documented. Studies suggest that the prevalence of opioid dependence in individuals with schizophrenia is significantly higher than in the general population. For instance, a study by Brunette et al. (2017) found that approximately 25% of individuals with schizophrenia also met criteria for opioid dependence [2]. This comorbidity presents unique challenges in the management of both conditions, as it often leads to poorer treatment outcomes and increased healthcare utilization.

This significant overlap suggests a complex interplay between the 2 conditions.

Shared vulnerability and biological factors: Several factors contribute to the co-occurrence of opioid dependence and schizophrenia. Shared vulnerability factors, such as genetic predisposition and neurobiological abnormalities, play a crucial role. For example, variations in genes related to dopamine signaling, such as the dopamine D2 receptor gene (DRD2), have been implicated in both opioid dependence and schizophrenia [3]. Furthermore, dysregulation of the brain’s reward system, involving dopaminergic pathways, may contribute to the reinforcing effects of opioids in individuals with schizophrenia [4].

Self-medication and symptom relief: Individuals with schizophrenia may use opioids as a form of self-medication to alleviate distressing symptoms. Opioids may temporarily relieve negative symptoms, such as anhedonia and social withdrawal, and reduce the intensity of positive symptoms, including hallucinations and delusions [5]. The desire for symptom relief can lead to a cycle of opioid use, dependence, and worsening psychiatric symptoms, further complicating the clinical picture.

Treatment challenges: The co-occurrence of opioid dependence and schizophrenia presents significant challenges in diagnosis and treatment. Misdiagnosis and under recognition of opioid dependence in individuals with schizophrenia are common due to overlapping symptoms and diagnostic complexities. Healthcare providers must carefully assess patients presenting with substance-related issues, especially in the context of schizophrenia, to ensure accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment planning.

Integrated treatment approaches: Integrated treatment approaches that address both opioid dependence and schizophrenia concurrently have shown promising outcomes. Comprehensive care should include pharmacological interventions, psychosocial therapies, and relapse prevention strategies. For instance, the combination of long-acting injectable antipsychotics and opioid agonist treatments, such as methadone or buprenorphine, has been effective in managing both conditions simultaneously [6].

Clinical implications

The co-occurrence of opioid dependence and schizophrenia is associated with several clinical implications. Firstly, individuals with this comorbidity tend to have more severe psychiatric symptoms and a higher risk of relapse compared to those with schizophrenia alone [7]. The presence of opioid dependence may exacerbate psychosis, contribute to medication non-adherence, and impair overall functioning.

Secondly, the misuse of opioids can interfere with the effectiveness of antipsychotic medications commonly used to treat schizophrenia. Opioids can alter the metabolism of these medications, leading to therapeutic failure or increased side effects [8]. Additionally, the sedative effects of opioids may mask the symptoms of psychosis, making accurate diagnosis and treatment monitoring more challenging.

Treatment considerations

Given the complexity of managing opioid dependence in individuals with schizophrenia, a comprehensive and integrated approach to treatment is essential. The following treatment considerations are recommended:

Dual diagnosis treatment: Individuals with co-occurring opioid dependence and schizophrenia benefit from integrated treatment that addresses both disorders simultaneously. This approach involves collaboration between mental health and addiction specialists to provide coordinated care.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT): The use of MAT, such as methadone or buprenorphine, can be beneficial in managing opioid dependence in this population. MAT should be carefully monitored, taking into account potential interactions with antipsychotic medications.

Psychosocial interventions: Various psychosocial interventions, such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and motivational interviewing, can complement pharmacological treatment. These approaches focus on relapse prevention, medication adherence, and coping skills development.

Supportive services: Individuals with opioid dependence and schizophrenia often require additional support services, including housing assistance, vocational rehabilitation, and social skills training. These services aim to enhance overall functioning and promote community reintegration.


Opioid dependence in schizophrenia represents a complex comorbidity that requires comprehensive and individualized treatment approaches. The co-occurrence of these conditions presents unique challenges, including increased symptom severity, treatment resistance, and medication interactions. By adopting an integrated treatment approach that combines pharmacological and psychosocial interventions, healthcare professionals can improve outcomes for individuals with opioid dependence and schizophrenia. Future research should focus on elucidating the underlying mechanisms and developing tailored interventions to address the complex needs of individuals with both conditions. Continued research and clinical efforts are necessary to better understand and address the multifaceted nature of this comorbidity.



Conflict of Interest

Authors have no conflict of interest to declare.


Copyright: © 2023 Marcos Altable, et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.