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Substance abuse in first-episode schizophrenic patients: a retrospective study.

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  • 1Clinical Psychiatry, Neuropsychopharmacology Unit, University of Milan, IRCCS Fondazione Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico, Via F,Sforza 35, 20122 Milano, Italy.


Several studies suggest a high comorbidity of substance abuse and schizophrenia, associated with higher frequency of relapse, more positive symptoms and depression, cognitive impairment, poorer outcome and treatment response. A high incidence of substance abuse is also observed in first-episode patients. Among patients with substance abuse, the onset precedes the onset of psychosis of several years in most cases. All the patients with a first episode of schizophrenia, at first admission to the Psychiatric Service of Diagnosis and Treatment of Ospedale Maggiore of Milan during the years 1990 to 2004, have been included in our study.The clinical evaluation has been obtained considering the following items of Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale (BPRS): conceptual disorganization, depressed mood, hostility, hallucinations, unusual content of thought.The results showed that 34.7% of first-episode schizophrenic patients had a lifetime history of substance abuse. The age of onset of schizophrenia is significantly lower for drug abusers than for patients without any type of abuse and for alcohol abusers (p < 0.005). In multi drug abusers, cannabis resulted the most frequently used (49%), followed by alcohol (13%), and cocaine (4%). Substance abusers have obtained a significant higher score in "thought disturbance" item (p < 0.005) and in "hostility" item (p < 0.005) compared to non substance abusers. Non drug abusers showed lower mean scores of "hostility" item compared to cocaine abusers and multi drug abusers (p < 0.005). Our findings seem to indicate that substance abuse in the early course of illness determines an earlier onset of schizophrenia and increases severity of some psychotic symptoms like "hallucination" and "unusual content of thought". Therefore persons incurring a risk of schizophrenia may be warned of the possible relation between substances and psychosis and have to be counselled against the use of them.

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