Disappearing acts: The social networks of formerly homeless individuals with co-occurring disorders

Hawkins, R. L. & Abrams, C.
Social Science & Medicine, 65, 2031-2042.

Studies of the social lives of men and women living with co-occurring disorders (substance abuse and serious mental illness) suggest that social networks critically influence recovery. In this paper, we examine some of the reasons that the social networks of individuals with co-occurring disorders are small, and the impact of small networks for this population. Using a social capital framework with cross-case analysis, we analyze 72 in-depth qualitative interviews with 39 formerly homeless mentally ill men and women who were substance abusers. All were participants in the New York Services Study (HYSS), a federally funded study of mentally ill adults in New York City. The patterns suggest that networks shrunk because 1) social network members died prematurely, 2) study participants withdrew or pushed others away, and 3) friends and family members faced so many obstacles of their own that they could not provide resources for the study participants. We suggest that as networks diminished, some participants responded by attempting to rebuild their networks, even if the networks provided negative social capital, and others isolated themselves socially to escape the pressures and disappointments of interaction.

Wagner Faculty