Living With a Co-Occurring Disorder and How Sober Livings Can Help

The population of individuals suffering from substance use disorders is growing by the day. More than 20 million adults in the United States have drug or alcohol use disorders. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, roughly 50% of people with addictions also suffer from comorbid mental health conditions. Suffering from co-occurring mental health disorders and addictions can be painful and difficult, but sober livings homes can provide the support necessary to live quality lives in sobriety despite the challenges of living with a mental health disorder.

Is A Sober Living Right For Me?

Sober living homes are designed to support individuals who are working to recover from drug or alcohol addictions. A sober living environment is designed to be drug and alcohol-free to prevent residents from being exposed to needless triggers. During early sobriety, individuals are vulnerable to relapse triggers. These triggers can include chance encounters with a former drug dealer or drinking buddy. Even passing by certain locations, such as a former favorite bar, can cause people to consider returning to old habits. The most common triggers, however, involve being directly exposed to drug or alcohol abuse. Sober living homes offer environments where this is unlikely.

Moreover, sober living homes provide a high degree of structure. Staff members and sober living managers not only enforce rules and administer regular drug tests, but they help set a schedule for the day and ensure that residents are taking tangible steps toward recovery goals. The structure that sober living homes offer can be an important resource for individuals who are suffering from mental health disorders.

Sober living homes are not clinical treatment programs. They do not employ therapists, physicians, or psychiatrists — and they cannot offer therapy or prescribe medications. Nonetheless, they can help individual clients connect to any services they need. In such a supportive environment, no one’s needs can go neglected. If an individual has a problem that requires medication or outpatient therapy, fellow residents and sober living staff will help them get the help they require. Sober livings, while not the same as mental health or addiction rehabs, are important home bases where individuals with comorbid mental health disorders can practice their newfound coping skills and develop the lives they want.

How Mental Illness Impacts Addiction

It is tempting to see mental health disorders as a separate issue from addiction. In reality, however, the overlap between the two is very extreme. Not only do half of all people with addiction experience some degree of mental illness, but half of all people with mental health disorders develop drug or alcohol addictions. Suffering from two or more of these conditions is known as comorbidity. The term “comorbid” is used to imply that the conditions affect one another. But how exactly does mental illness lead to addiction?

It is no coincidence that people with mental health conditions frequently have addictions as well. Mental health disorders often drive people to abuse drugs and alcohol in the first place. When people suffer from mental health conditions, they often experience intense emotional distress and find it difficult to function. Drugs and alcohol provide a high that can serve to temporarily boost people’s moods. In this sense, drugs and alcohol can temporarily relieve the painful symptoms of a mental health disorder.

The practice of taking alcohol or illicit drugs to relieve the symptoms of mental illness is known as self-medication. Self-medication is more likely to occur when a person has not been officially diagnosed with a mental health condition. It may also occur when a person has not been prescribed treatment for their mental illness. Desperate for some form of relief, it is natural to try to find solutions wherever they can be found.

Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol only help with the distressing emotional symptoms of mental health disorders in the short term. Developing a reliance on drugs and alcohol to function is highly likely to lead to physical dependence and addiction. When this occurs, a person’s functionality can be even further impaired. Moreover, the withdrawal symptoms they face on a daily basis can cause emotional distress even more severe than their mental illness caused. As a result, their mental health will be even worse than before. Unfortunately, even though drugs and alcohol may have worsened their mental health, substances will likely remain their short-term solution. The result is a vicious cycle, during which both mental health and addiction continually get worse.

How a Sober Living Facility Can Help

Sober livings help residents develop structure in their lives. In the process, they learn to function independently and autonomously. Quality sober living homes recognize that recovering from an addiction is a far greater process than simply becoming physically abstinent. The recovery process means that individuals should work on addressing underlying issues that may have driven them to abuse drugs and alcohol in the first place.

For many sober living residents, the issues that drove them to abuse drugs and alcohol are numerous and often overlapping. These can include conflictual family dynamics, a lack of employment prospects, and, yes, mental health problems. During life in a sober living house, residents work daily to heal past damage and tackle these underlying problems.

At the same time, they work to develop the coping tools that they need to stay sober. Sober living residents develop healthier behaviors and values by following the structure and schedule of a sober living. Learning to wake up at the same time each day, make one’s bed, and eat a healthy breakfast, for instance, are simple life habits that can set oneself up for success. More profound behaviors, such as learning when to ask for help, are also emphasized at sober livings.

Residents take steps toward developing life skills as well. Many young people lack even the most basic life skills after years of active addiction. Sober living home staff encourage residents to engage in healthier grooming and hygiene habits, for instance. These habits can not only raise their confidence but can represent an important foundation for self-care. Other life skills that residents learn are more pragmatic. Learning to write a resume, get through a job interview, or even get to appointments on time can make important differences.

Individuals with addiction and comorbid mental health disorders often spend years depending on others. Sober living homes help them get on their feet by encouraging them to take active steps toward rebuilding their lives. Most sober living homes require residents to get jobs during their time in the house. Residents learn to manage their money responsibly, and they may even accumulate some savings. As residents become more confident in their sobriety, they will also begin contemplating and working toward future goals, ranging from entirely new careers to enrolling in academic degree programs.

Peer Support and Mental Health

One of the most critical benefits that sober livings offer is peer support. In fact, research shows that attending a sober living can reduce a person’s likelihood of relapsing even many years after they have left. These studies attribute this reduced risk of relapse to the peer support that residents develop.

Addiction can be lonely, and it is often referred to by experts as a “disease of loneliness.” Individuals who suffer from comorbid mental health conditions may experience even more isolation. The unpredictable and alienating behaviors, impulsivity, and isolating tendencies of addicts and the mentally ill can result in extreme alienation, loneliness, and damaged relationships. For many, social isolation is not only a consequence of mental illness and addiction — but it is also a driving force behind addiction.

Sober livings allow residents to connect with other people who understand them. Residents can share their stories with people who have been through similar, and sometimes more extreme, experiences. Housemates form strong bonds. Not only can they relate to each other and laugh about what they’ve been through, but they can offer each other feedback and advice as they face challenges in early sobriety together. A sober social support system increases accountability, allows for mentorship, and has the added benefit of making life in sobriety more joyful and fulfilling.

Combining Treatment and Sober Living

It can’t be denied that individuals with mental health disorders often require clinical treatment. Talk therapy and medication can both be valuable tools for treating mental health conditions. In fact, getting quality treatment for these conditions can reduce the likelihood that an individual will be tempted to self-medicate. Thus, mental health treatment reduces the likelihood of substance abuse.

It is important to recognize that sober livings are not rehabs or clinical treatment centers. However, individuals who are getting treatment at outpatient rehabs are often advised to make use of sober living houses. Living at a sober living while attending outpatient treatment can be profoundly beneficial. Clients who are receiving mental health or addiction treatment are far more likely to achieve long-term recovery when they live in a supportive environment. In a sober living, rehab clients can implement and practice their newfound coping skills and develop a strong support system.

Recover From Comorbid Addiction and Mental Illness at Design for Recovery

In many cases, the best recovery option for individuals suffering from addiction and mental health conditions is a sober living home. Sober living homes are residences where individuals in recovery reside together while trying to stay sober and supporting one another. Quality sober livings not only offer room and board, but they also provide a much-needed structure and support for people in recovery. These resources include 12-step meetings, life skills training, and help to tackle underlying issues. While sober living houses do not provide clinical mental health treatment, they can work well in conjunction with outpatient treatment programs and they are often recommended as transitional programs for people who have recently graduated from rehab.

Design for Recovery is a sober living house for men located in Mar Vista, a neighborhood in West Los Angeles. At Design for Recovery, we believe that recovering from drug and alcohol addiction means more than simply abstaining from substances. Our residents commit to a new set of core values, among them responsibility, integrity, honesty, and accountability. Our sober living house is firmly rooted in the principles of the 12-steps, and we work with residents and their families to guarantee that they get the resources they need to address their addictions and their mental health problems. Every day, young men at Design for Recovery take positive steps forward as they rebuild their lives in recovery: enrolling in college, beginning new careers, healing damaged relationships with loved ones, and rediscovering their passions.

For a free and confidential consultation with one of our staff, contact Design for Recovery today.

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