What are the main signs of a concurrent disorder

Main signs of a concurrent disorder - Centres for Health and Healing

Concurrent disorder is a term used to describe the presence of a co-occurring mental health problem and addiction.

Co-occurring disorders

Co-occurring disorders can include a wide range of different conditions. 

For example, a person with a concurrent disorder may get diagnosed with:

  • A drug addiction problem and anxiety disorder
  • Cocaine dependence and borderline personality disorder
  • Gambling addiction and bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia and alcohol dependence

Mental health and substance abuse

Concurrent disorders can present in many different ways.

For instance, co-occurring conditions may be simultaneously active (coinciding at the same time) or functioning at entirely different times in the past or present.

Moreover, you may find that your symptoms differ in intensity and duration. Such symptoms may also unfold over time.

What condition came first?

In clinical practice, the question often arises as to which condition came first, was it the mental illness or substance use disorder?

To a degree, such a question remains inconclusive.

However, addiction specialists say that it might be helpful for people to view mental health problems and substance use disorders as conditions that interact with each other.

Concurrent disorder risk factors

Substance use and mental health disorders can profoundly impact each other in various ways.

For instance, if you have been diagnosed with a concurrent disorder, you’ll likely experience more medical, emotional and social problems than if you’ve only been diagnosed with one condition.

Other risk factors

Other risk factors for people with concurrent disorders can make treating co-occurring conditions more complex, mainly because:

  • Substance abuse often conceals the symptoms of a mental illness
  • A substance use problem can worsen mental health problems
  • Abusing substances can affect a person’s memory, meaning that they may forget to take their medication
  • Sometimes people turn to substances to forget about a mental health problem, meaning they are less likely to seek health care treatment
  • People with substance use problems and co-occurring mental illness may find that treatment takes longer due to its complexity

Concurrent disorder symptoms

Concurent disorder symptoms - Centres for Health and Healing

Studies into concurrent disorders show that there is no particular set of symptoms or group of symptoms prevalent in all combinations.

However, concurrent disorders can get categorized into five main groups:

  • Substance use problems and personality disorders, such as antisocial personality disorder or borderline personality disorder, or issues such as aggression, anger, and impulsivity
  • Substance use and severe mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia
  • Substance use and anxiety and mood disorders, such as panic disorder, anxiety or depression
  • Substance use and eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia
  • Substance use and mental health conditions, such as sex addiction and gambling.

Dual diagnosis

Another general term you may come across for concurrent disorder is dual diagnosis.

Such a term can differ in meaning between countries.

For example, in the United States, the terms mentally ill chemical abuser, dual disorder, or dual diagnosis are commonly used to describe a concurrent condition.

On the other hand, in Canada, dual diagnosis typically refers to someone with a mental health problem and co-occurring developmental disability.


Unfortunately, studies have shown that people with concurrent disorders are frequently misidentified, as concurrent disorders can be challenging to diagnose as one condition often mimics another.

Relapse rates

The literature also illustrates that people with co-occurring substance use disorders are at higher risk of relapse, as their mental health symptoms are likely to return.

Statistics show that the prevalence rate for concurrent disorders is around 20 – 80 percent.

Across the board, people with mental illness have much higher substance use and addiction rates than people in the broader population.

Sample study

A study conducted in Edmonton, Alberta, found that almost a third of people with a mental illness also had a substance use problem.

Moreover, almost a third of the studied sample with alcohol dependency also had a psychiatric diagnosis, and for those with an illicit drug problem, over half had a mental illness.

Treatment and diagnosis

Concurrent disorder treatment - Centres for Health and Healing

Research shows the most effective way to treat concurrent disorders is to address both problems simultaneously and in a coordinated manner.

Like any mental health treatment, the treatment approach will depend on the severity and type of a person’s condition.

Often, treatments such as group or individual therapy or biological therapies (i.e. medications) address symptoms of mental illness and substance use.

Addiction specialists have said that the best treatment plan considers mental health and substance use collaboratively; it is also recommended that specialists treat one condition first.

For instance, mood disorders and drug addiction are likely to have better outcomes if the drug problem gets treated first.

Integrated treatment

People diagnosed with a severe concurrent disorder may significantly benefit from an integrated treatment approach.

Integrated treatment has many advantages for concurrent disorders, as integrated treatment plans ensure that treatment is coordinated, seamless, and comprehensive.

Treating the whole person

Such an approach considers the client’s entire life and not just the concurrent disorders, for example, employment and housing.

An integrated treatment approach has many benefits for those needing support in other life areas, not just their mental or physical health.

However, an integrative treatment approach helps to:

  • Prevent the occurrence of a relapse
  • Maintain and sustain positive treatment outcomes
  • Ensure a client’s basic life needs get met

Health care provider relationships

Research shows that mental illness and addiction treatment work best if individuals have a trusting and stable relationship with their therapist or caseworker.

Those with mental health problems and substance abuse often benefit from one health care provider overseeing their treatment.

However, to provide a holistic approach to treatment, many health care providers work with a team of professionals, such as social workers, psychiatrists, and addiction specialists.

Contact our centre

Fortunately, concurrent disorders are treatable with proper treatment and aftercare support.

At Centres for Health and Healing, we specialize in treating dual diagnoses and various mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, trauma and burnout.

We offer various treatments to support those who require help with different symptoms and seek to address the root cause of addiction and substance abuse issues. 

Get in touch with our friendly team of specialists to find out how we can help.

Lisa Davies - Program Director of Vaughan Recovery and Kirby Estate

About Lisa Davies

Lisa is the Program Director at Centres for Health and Healing. She lived for most of her life in the Durham region, before moving to Peel five years ago.

Lisa is a Master Hypnotist and is certified in Hypnotherapy (2008), Self-Hypnosis and in 5-phase Advanced Therapeutic Healing. As a Member of National Guild of Hypnotists, she is also specialized in hypnosis training in pediatrics, pain management, neuro-linguistic and stage programming.

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