Vancouver/Richmond EPI
Early Psychosis Intervention

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Alcohol, Drugs and Psychosis

  • Street drugs and/or alcohol are not a primary cause of psychosis; they may help to worsen symptoms, increase the person's vulnerability to relapses and rehospitalizations, and/or impair the protective effects of anti-psychotic medications.
  • Street drugs or alcohol can complicate the treatment of the person with psychosis because they may be more difficult to engage in treatment programs, vocational programs, or therapy. There are also financial, legal, health, housing, interpersonal, and family problems associated with a person with mental illness using street drugs and/or alcohol.
  • Dual diagnosis is defined as the combination of a major mental illness and a substance abuse disorder.
  • In B.C., a 1998 survey found that 55% of people interviewed had substance use issues accompanying their first episode of mental illness. Studies suggest that approximately 47% of people with schizophrenia abuse alcohol and/or street drugs. At least 50% of people with mental illness abuse illegal drugs or alcohol, compared to only 15% of the general population.
  • Person with psychosis may use drugs and/or alcohol due to:
    • boredom
    • inducing pleasure
    • depression or anxiety
    • increase opportunities for social contact
    • side effects of medications
    • temporary relief from symptoms of the illness

Some family members may neglect to mention their relative's drug or alcohol abuse to health care professionals because they believe it is a symptom that will clear up once the person receives treatment for the mental illness.

Assessing alcohol and drug use:

  • If possible, discuss with your family member's mental health professional, doctor, etc. and consult on how you can help your family member or friend who is using alcohol and/or drugs.
  • Therapeutic approach is to avoid heavy confrontation and intense emotional interactions which can create additional stress and reactions in people with psychosis. A non-confrontational approach based on education, support, and discussion is more effective, especially in one-to-one and/or group setting. Avoid judgmental and/or blaming statements. Be willing to listen to the person rather than interpret behavior.
  • Talk to your family member and ask in a straight-forward, matter of fact way if they are using alcohol and/or drugs. However, denial of alcohol and/or drug use is no guarantee that your family member is not abusing.
  • Look for worsening of symptoms that cannot be accounted for by medication non-compliance or current life stressors.
  • Look for noticeable decline in functioning
    e.g.failing to meet expectations that were formerly met (being late, sleeping in, not doing house chores, etc)
  • Alcohol or drug paraphernalia (e.g. rolling papers, pipes, cut plastic tubes for snorting cocaine, small bags for storing drugs, etc)
  • Financial difficulties (i.e. not having any money or repeated efforts to borrow money from friends and families).
  • New set of friends in a short period of time.


Centre for Concurrent Disorders


Group treatment programs lasts up to six months and include topics such as relapse prevention, anger management, strategies to develop a recovery support system, accessing community services, and making positive life changes.

  • One-to-one counselling
  • Addictions specialist
  • Psychiatrist
  • Group counselling and support
  • Resource centre

Adolescent Dual Diagnosis Program

For youth with a mental health concern and a substance misuse problem. Provide assessment, individual and family counselling.

Pre-Recovery Empowerment Program (PREP)

Vancouver Native Health Society
524 Powell Street

For anyone 19 or older with a mental emotional disorder and substance misuse or gambling problem. Provide individual counselling, lifeskills training, etc.

Peace Arch Community Services/Addictions Services

882 Maple Street
White Rock

Dual diagnosis program for professional referrals only in the South Fraser region (i.e. White Rock, South Surrey). Provide screening and assessment; individual, family and group counselling.

Pacifica Treatment Centre

1755 East 11th Ave

Four week residential treatment facility for men and women over 19 who are fully detoxed and for dual diagnosis clients who are stabilized. Provide screening and assessment; individual and group counselling; programs for friends and family.

Richmond Addiction Services(R.A.S.)

175720 Minoru Boulevard
Richmond BC

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