A co-occurring disorder is defined as the existence of a substance abuse disorder and a mental health issue taking place at the same time, the two intensifying each other. Several surveys and studies have shown this is a very common condition. A 1990 study lead by R.J.
Rounsavile in the Archives of General Psychology found that, among 298 patients seeking treatment for cocaine addiction, 73.5 percent also had a mental health issue. The 1995 National Co-Morbidity Survey estimated that about 10 million people in the United States suffer from both a mental health disorder and a substance-related disorder.
Many people get trapped in a cycle, as the drugs being used to self-medicate out of a mental health difficulty end up making the problem worse, leading to increased substance abuse. Both interfere with your ability to function, interact with others, and cope with difficulties.
If you try to face such a huge two-headed monster all by yourself, it would be easy to feel overwhelmed and lost. Yet, the truth is you are not alone. Many other people have faced co-occurring disorders as well, and they can make themselves available to help you.
The benefits of outside help
Support groups, and a network of supportive friends and family can make a huge difference in the ability of someone with co-occurring disorders to be successful in recovery. Both mental illness and addiction cloud your judgment, and make it difficult to see yourself and your situation truthfully.
Peer support groups can offer invaluable benefit to someone going through such a difficult time. Hearing the stories, voices, and advice of others will let you know that you are not alone, and will help you cope and learn from the experience of others. Groups can be a safe place to maintain sobriety, get support and discus challenges.
One important function for support groups is they can help you learn how to manage stressful situations and triggers. Both mental illness and addiction can be brought on by stressful life situations.
In the heat of the overwhelming moment, it can be difficult to know how to choose healthy habits and coping mechanisms. A good support group and councilor can help you gain in self-awareness, and work out an "action plan" to recognize how to deal with stresses.
In this way you can replace the "bad habits" of substance abuse, with "good habits" of handling stress in a helpful way.
How and where to get help
As you are seeking help for both your mental health issue and your addiction, there is need to treat both together, in an integrated way. It is best to be upfront with all people, whether peer supporters or professionals, explaining how you are in need of treatment for these two different but related conditions.
While the ideal situation would be a group of people dealing with co-occurring disorders, any recovery group for issues related to your addiction can also be valuable to help you work to get control of your life back. Even if you're fellow friends in recovery do not have a mental health issue, they can still support you and give you a safe space to share your story.
Elements of a helpful group experience for someone suffering from co-occurring disorders
The most important need for someone with co-occurring disorder to be involved with recovery is active listening. Space must be made for someone to share all the complex interrelated issues in a safe way, and then group members can help to make connections between different things, giving each person a deeper perspective on the issues being faced.
There should also be a sense of ceremony and ritual, to give meetings a sense of regularity, control, and security, and celebrate and be encouraged by the success of each day. At the same time, there should be enough flexibility and willingness to let go of dogma, as the group works together to creativity to use whatever works to help everyone reach a goal of a happy life of recovery.