Concurrent Disorders is a term used to describe the presence of a mental health issue such as anxiety, depression or schizophrenia along with a substance use disorder or behavioral addiction.

The presence of two disorders complicates treatment and increases the risk for relapse. According to the Canadian Centre for Mental Health and Addiction, “problems and substance use problems can affect each other in several ways:

  • Substance use can make mental health problems worse.
  • Substance use can mimic or hide the symptoms of mental health problems.
  • Sometimes people turn to substance use to “relieve” or forget about the symptoms of mental health problems.
  • Some substances can make mental health medications less effective.
  • Using substances can make people forget to take their medications. If this happens, the mental health problems may come back (“relapse”) or get worse.
  • When a person relapses with one problem, it can trigger the symptoms of the other problem.”

For these reasons, we find that rates of substance use disorders are higher among those with mental health disorders and similarly, those with substance use disorders have higher rates of mental health disorder (Health Canada, 2002).

Because of these complexities, it is considered best practice to provide integrated treatment for concurrent disorders. This means attending to both disorders instead of treating each disorder separately. That said, it is often the case that stopping drug use or addictive behaviors will decrease mental health symptoms and make treatment of these symptoms more effective. However, in integrated treatment the clinician is always assessing the impact of each disorder and determining what needs attention.