How Can I Help Someone Who Has a Co-occurring Disorder?

Reviewed May 31, 2017

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Summary

  • Attend doctor appointments and support group meetings.
  • Help her establish daily routines for eating, sleeping, and taking pills.
  • Praise her successes and don’t dwell on her failures.

No one likes to see someone they care about go through hard times. A friend with a substance use disorder is hard to be around. A child with a mental illness is tough on the whole family. If you know someone with both issues, then you know it is even harder. As taxing as it may be, your support is a vital part of their recovery.

Identify the issues

The first step is to realize there is a co-occurring disorder (COD). Your friend or loved one may be in denial about her own situation. Her doctor or health care worker may not be aware of the other issue either. Therefore, the person is only getting treated for one issue. This is less than ideal since the two conditions affect each other. For instance, someone being treated for depression may drink alcohol to try to feel better. A person attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings may continue drinking because she feels depressed. If only one issue is being addressed, the other issue can get in the way of its treatment. For treatment to work, it must be given for both disorders at the same time.

You may know your friend or loved one better than anyone. Therefore, you may be the first one to notice when he isn’t acting like himself. Watch out for sudden changes that may indicate mental illness or substance use or both.

Some of these changes may include:

  • Extreme moodiness, touchiness or irritation
  • High-risk drinking
  • Violence
  • Depression
  • Apathy
  • Inattention
  • Nervousness
  • Paranoia
  • Withdrawal
  • Eating, sleeping, or sexual troubles

Ways to promote recovery

When someone you care about has COD, you may feel helpless. This is a normal feeling, but it is far from the truth. Not only can you help, but your friend or loved one needs your help. Helping does not mean taking on the burden yourself. It does not mean you become the person’s enabler or watchdog either. A person with COD has to first be willing to get help. Recovery is hard work and no one can do the work for her. Your job is to show your support throughout the process. This means during both the good times and the bad times.

Sometimes, the best way to help someone with COD is just to be there for him. This allows your friend or loved one to open up about his struggles. You don’t need to have all the answers. You just need to give encouragement and support. Listen to him, and let him know he is not alone.

Here are other ways to help a friend or loved one recover:

  • Go with her to doctor appointments.
  • Attend support group meetings.
  • Help her establish daily routines for eating, sleeping, and taking pills.
  • Praise her successes and don’t dwell on her failures.
  • Be patient with her.
  • Encourage her by staying positive yourself.
  • Invite her to partake in healthy activities.
  • Stay informed about the disorders.
  • Don’t ignore thoughts of suicide—call their doctor or 911.

Resources

Alcoholics Anonymous
www.aa.org

Narcotics Anonymous
www.na.org

National Alliance on Mental Illness
www.nami.org

National Institute of Mental Health
www.nimh.nih.gov

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
www.samhsa.gov

By Kevin Rizzo
Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, http://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content//PHD1131/PHD1131.pdf, www.samhsa.gov/co-occurring/topics/screening-and-assessment/index.aspx, http://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content//PHD1130/PHD1130.pdf and www.samhsa.gov/co-occurring/about/consumers-and-families.aspx; National Institute of Mental Health, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/schizophrenia/index.shtml
Reviewed by Sanjay Vaswani, MD, CMQ, DFAPA, Regional Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • Attend doctor appointments and support group meetings.
  • Help her establish daily routines for eating, sleeping, and taking pills.
  • Praise her successes and don’t dwell on her failures.

No one likes to see someone they care about go through hard times. A friend with a substance use disorder is hard to be around. A child with a mental illness is tough on the whole family. If you know someone with both issues, then you know it is even harder. As taxing as it may be, your support is a vital part of their recovery.

Identify the issues

The first step is to realize there is a co-occurring disorder (COD). Your friend or loved one may be in denial about her own situation. Her doctor or health care worker may not be aware of the other issue either. Therefore, the person is only getting treated for one issue. This is less than ideal since the two conditions affect each other. For instance, someone being treated for depression may drink alcohol to try to feel better. A person attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings may continue drinking because she feels depressed. If only one issue is being addressed, the other issue can get in the way of its treatment. For treatment to work, it must be given for both disorders at the same time.

You may know your friend or loved one better than anyone. Therefore, you may be the first one to notice when he isn’t acting like himself. Watch out for sudden changes that may indicate mental illness or substance use or both.

Some of these changes may include:

  • Extreme moodiness, touchiness or irritation
  • High-risk drinking
  • Violence
  • Depression
  • Apathy
  • Inattention
  • Nervousness
  • Paranoia
  • Withdrawal
  • Eating, sleeping, or sexual troubles

Ways to promote recovery

When someone you care about has COD, you may feel helpless. This is a normal feeling, but it is far from the truth. Not only can you help, but your friend or loved one needs your help. Helping does not mean taking on the burden yourself. It does not mean you become the person’s enabler or watchdog either. A person with COD has to first be willing to get help. Recovery is hard work and no one can do the work for her. Your job is to show your support throughout the process. This means during both the good times and the bad times.

Sometimes, the best way to help someone with COD is just to be there for him. This allows your friend or loved one to open up about his struggles. You don’t need to have all the answers. You just need to give encouragement and support. Listen to him, and let him know he is not alone.

Here are other ways to help a friend or loved one recover:

  • Go with her to doctor appointments.
  • Attend support group meetings.
  • Help her establish daily routines for eating, sleeping, and taking pills.
  • Praise her successes and don’t dwell on her failures.
  • Be patient with her.
  • Encourage her by staying positive yourself.
  • Invite her to partake in healthy activities.
  • Stay informed about the disorders.
  • Don’t ignore thoughts of suicide—call their doctor or 911.

Resources

Alcoholics Anonymous
www.aa.org

Narcotics Anonymous
www.na.org

National Alliance on Mental Illness
www.nami.org

National Institute of Mental Health
www.nimh.nih.gov

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
www.samhsa.gov

By Kevin Rizzo
Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, http://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content//PHD1131/PHD1131.pdf, www.samhsa.gov/co-occurring/topics/screening-and-assessment/index.aspx, http://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content//PHD1130/PHD1130.pdf and www.samhsa.gov/co-occurring/about/consumers-and-families.aspx; National Institute of Mental Health, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/schizophrenia/index.shtml
Reviewed by Sanjay Vaswani, MD, CMQ, DFAPA, Regional Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • Attend doctor appointments and support group meetings.
  • Help her establish daily routines for eating, sleeping, and taking pills.
  • Praise her successes and don’t dwell on her failures.

No one likes to see someone they care about go through hard times. A friend with a substance use disorder is hard to be around. A child with a mental illness is tough on the whole family. If you know someone with both issues, then you know it is even harder. As taxing as it may be, your support is a vital part of their recovery.

Identify the issues

The first step is to realize there is a co-occurring disorder (COD). Your friend or loved one may be in denial about her own situation. Her doctor or health care worker may not be aware of the other issue either. Therefore, the person is only getting treated for one issue. This is less than ideal since the two conditions affect each other. For instance, someone being treated for depression may drink alcohol to try to feel better. A person attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings may continue drinking because she feels depressed. If only one issue is being addressed, the other issue can get in the way of its treatment. For treatment to work, it must be given for both disorders at the same time.

You may know your friend or loved one better than anyone. Therefore, you may be the first one to notice when he isn’t acting like himself. Watch out for sudden changes that may indicate mental illness or substance use or both.

Some of these changes may include:

  • Extreme moodiness, touchiness or irritation
  • High-risk drinking
  • Violence
  • Depression
  • Apathy
  • Inattention
  • Nervousness
  • Paranoia
  • Withdrawal
  • Eating, sleeping, or sexual troubles

Ways to promote recovery

When someone you care about has COD, you may feel helpless. This is a normal feeling, but it is far from the truth. Not only can you help, but your friend or loved one needs your help. Helping does not mean taking on the burden yourself. It does not mean you become the person’s enabler or watchdog either. A person with COD has to first be willing to get help. Recovery is hard work and no one can do the work for her. Your job is to show your support throughout the process. This means during both the good times and the bad times.

Sometimes, the best way to help someone with COD is just to be there for him. This allows your friend or loved one to open up about his struggles. You don’t need to have all the answers. You just need to give encouragement and support. Listen to him, and let him know he is not alone.

Here are other ways to help a friend or loved one recover:

  • Go with her to doctor appointments.
  • Attend support group meetings.
  • Help her establish daily routines for eating, sleeping, and taking pills.
  • Praise her successes and don’t dwell on her failures.
  • Be patient with her.
  • Encourage her by staying positive yourself.
  • Invite her to partake in healthy activities.
  • Stay informed about the disorders.
  • Don’t ignore thoughts of suicide—call their doctor or 911.

Resources

Alcoholics Anonymous
www.aa.org

Narcotics Anonymous
www.na.org

National Alliance on Mental Illness
www.nami.org

National Institute of Mental Health
www.nimh.nih.gov

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
www.samhsa.gov

By Kevin Rizzo
Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, http://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content//PHD1131/PHD1131.pdf, www.samhsa.gov/co-occurring/topics/screening-and-assessment/index.aspx, http://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content//PHD1130/PHD1130.pdf and www.samhsa.gov/co-occurring/about/consumers-and-families.aspx; National Institute of Mental Health, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/schizophrenia/index.shtml
Reviewed by Sanjay Vaswani, MD, CMQ, DFAPA, Regional Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, quizzes, and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, health care, psychiatric, psychological or behavioral health care advice. Nothing contained on the Achieve Solutions site is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care professional. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your health care provider.  ©2017 Beacon Health Options, Inc.

 

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