Drug misuse is an important clinical problem associated with a poorer outcome in patients who have a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Qualitative studies have rarely been used to elicit reasons for drug use in psychosis, but not in schizophrenia.
Seventeen people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and who had used street drugs were interviewed and asked to describe, in narrative form, their street drug use from their early experiences to the present day. Grounded theory was used to analyse the transcripts.
We identified five reasons for continuing street drug use. The reasons were: as an ‘identity defining vocation’, ‘to belong to a peer group’, due to ‘hopelessness’, because of ‘beliefs about symptoms and how street drugs influence them’ and viewing drugs as ‘equivalent to taking psychotropic medication’. Street drugs were often used to reduce anxiety aroused by voice hearing. Some participants reported street drugs to focus their attention more on persecutory voices in the hope of outwitting their perceived persecutors.
It would be clinically useful to examine for the presence of the five factors in patients who have a diagnosis of schizophrenia and use street drugs, as this is likely to help the clinician to tailor management of substance misuse to the individual patient’s beliefs.