BACKGROUND - Many patients with serious mental illness are addicted to drugs and alcohol. This comorbidity creates additional problems for the patients and for the clinicians, health care systems, and social-service agencies that provide services to this population. One problem is that disability income, which many people with serious mental illness receive to pay for basic needs, may facilitate drug abuse. In this study, we assessed the temporal patterns of cocaine use, psychiatric symptoms, and psychiatric hospitalization in a sample of schizophrenic patients receiving disability income.
METHODS - We evaluated 105 male patients with schizophrenia and cocaine dependence at the time of their admission to the hospital. They had severe mental illness and a long-term dependence on cocaine, with repeated admissions to psychiatric hospitals; many were homeless. The severity of psychiatric symptoms and urinary concentrations of the cocaine metabolite benzoylecgonine were evaluated weekly for 15 weeks.
RESULTS - Cocaine use, psychiatric symptoms, and hospital admissions all peaked during the first week of the month, shortly after the arrival of the disability payment, on the first day. The average patient spent nearly half his total income on illegal drugs.
CONCLUSIONS - Among cocaine-abusing schizophrenic persons, the cyclic pattern of drug use strongly suggests that it is influenced by the monthly receipt of disability payments. The consequences of this cycle include the depletion of funds needed for housing and food, exacerbation of psychiatric symptoms, more frequent psychiatric hospitalization, and a high rate of homelessness. The troubling irony is that income intended to compensate for the disabling effects of severe mental illness may have the opposite effect.