What Do Mental Health Professionals Mean by “Concurrent Disorders”?

concurrent disorder shame of man

Concurrent mental health disorders is a term that professionals in the mental health field use to describe mental illnesses that occur alongside addiction.

Research suggests between 20 to 80% of Canadians who struggle with substance abuse also have another mental health disorder. 

While it is not clear which precedes the other, psychology shows that people with mental health disorders are at a greater risk of developing a substance addiction and that people with an addiction have a higher risk of developing a mental health disorder. 

What is a concurrent disorder? 

concurrent disorder depressed woman

A concurrent disorder occurs alongside substance use disorder (SUD). People with SUD have higher rates of mental illness, regardless of their addiction severity or prior medical history. 

Concurrent disorders include depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, and mood disorders, such as:

  • Major depressive disorder
  • Generalised anxiety disorder 
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Cyclothymia

Concurrent disorders are also often called “co-occurring,” “co-morbidities,” or “dual diagnosis” in the mental health profession. 

When a person struggles with a disorder, such as depression or anxiety, they may try to self-medicate by using drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism.

Unfortunately, this often leads to the development of SUD. People then face a constant, overwhelming struggle to escape their mental discomfort as well as their primary coping strategy. 

What are the most common co-occurring disorders? 

In addiction psychology, researchers are always exploring the different factors that lead to the development, maintenance, and treatment of SUDs. This includes examining co-occurring disorders and the role they play in substance abuse.

While the field is ever-evolving, there is evidence that some mental health disorders are more common among people with SUDs. These include:

  • Major depressive disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Eating disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Conduct disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Mood disorders

Some personality disorders are also marked by a higher prevalence of substance abuse. Namely, borderline personality disorder often includes depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and experimental/risky substance abuse. 

Causes of Concurrent Disorders


Every person’s mental health is unique, and their disorders may develop before or after they begin using substances.

So far, science shows there are a number of factors that lead to the development of mental illness. Genetics, environment, and experience tend to be the most influential factors. However, personality may also come into play.

Two people who live through the exact same traumatic experience may recover completely differently. One may process what happened, move forward, and build resilience; the other may develop post-traumatic stress disorder and require therapy. 

There are three primary theories that suggest how concurrent disorders develop.

  • A mental health disorder leads to substance abuse. Someone struggling with their mental health is more likely to turn to drugs and/or alcohol as a coping mechanism. Many people who develop SUD may not intentionally abuse these substances, but as they rely on them more frequently, a use disorder naturally arises. 
  • Substance use disorders lead to mental illnesses. Based on genetics and the effects drugs and alcohol have on the brain, some people may develop mental health disorders due to their substance misuse. For example, cannabis has been noted to induce schizophrenia and psychosis in some at-risk people. Others may develop them during withdrawal. 
  • Both substance abuse and mental health disorders develop independently but influence each other. While a person’s mental health disorder and substance abuse may occur at different periods and for varying reasons, both interplay when it comes to their overall well-being. Someone may not have even been fully aware of their mental health struggles until they began abusing drugs or alcohol. This can worsen or trigger the onset of mental health symptoms

Every person’s experience with concurrent disorders will vary. There is no “typical” way to have a dual diagnosis, even if mental health professionals rely on standardised diagnostic manuals. 

Ultimately, a dual diagnosis can express itself differently based on someone’s age, ethnicity, cultural background, social upbringing, and even personality.  Just as two people with the same diagnosis have different experiences, the same is true for anyone living with co-occurring disorders.

What is the best treatment for dual diagnosis? 

A dual diagnosis responds best to treatment that integrates therapy for substance abuse and the mental health disorder in question.

In the past, treatment for mental health disorders and addiction was kept separate. Unfortunately, this placed people who sought help through rehab at a greater risk of relapse. 

Without treating the underlying causes of both addiction and mental health disorders, a person is more likely to return to old behaviours after treatment.

Integrative treatment programs ensure that a person receives both accurate diagnoses and targeted treatment. 

In many cases, people have received only partial diagnoses, which ultimately leaves them only half-treated for a problem that stems beyond their visible symptoms. Having professionals who understand the complex nature of concurrent disorders is therefore crucial to positive treatment outcomes. 

At the Centres for Health and Healing, we specialise in offering dual diagnosis treatment for a wide range of mental health and substance use disorders. 

Our program features:

  • Comprehensive screening and diagnoses by licensed professionals
  • A recovery team of psychiatric experts and addiction therapists to coordinate care
  • Individual and group counselling sessions using a variety of therapeutic modalities 
  • Medication assistance to reduce the severity of mental health and withdrawal symptoms 
  • Holistic treatments to complement therapy, including acupuncture, mindfulness therapy, and equine therapy
  • Ongoing aftercare support to promote long-term recovery 

Learn More From Our Experts

concurrent disorder seek help

If you would like to learn more about our programs and services for treating the dual diagnosis, please contact us at the Centres for Health and Healing today. 

We are here to support you on every step of your recovery journey. We want to hear your story and align the best possible treatment options with the most meaningful experiences for you. 

Together, our recovery experts can help you reach your goals and rediscover joy after struggling. Healing starts where connection begins. Please reach out to us when you are ready to move forward. 

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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