Concurrent disorders

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“Concurrent disorders” is a term used by mental health professionals when diagnosing a substance use disorder and mental health condition in the same person.

Mental health professionals have long debated whether addiction causes a person’s mental health issues or if it’s the other way around. Although there may not be a definitive answer to the above question, we know that various studies have shown a strong link between addiction and mental illness.

For many, drugs and alcohol mask the symptoms of a mental health disorder, while others use substances to self-medicate and numb painful emotions or memories.

Regardless of which disorder came first, if you or someone you know are struggling with addiction and other mental health issues, speaking to an experienced professional can help you get the treatment and support you need and deserve.

Here, we will explore concurrent disorders, their symptoms, and effective treatments that can help.

Let’s get started.

Additional definitions for concurrent disorders

Mental health professionals use various terms to describe concurrent disorders, including the following:

  • Co-occurring disorders
  • Dual diagnosis
  • Dual disorders
  • Co-occurring substance abuse and mental health problems
  • Comorbidity

Examples of concurrent disorders

Concurrent disorders describe a combination of various substance addictions and mental health disorders.

For example, a person may be diagnosed with a concurrent disorder if they suffer from alcohol addiction and depression.

Another example might be when someone has an opioid use disorder and borderline personality disorder.

Behavioural addictions such as sex, food and video game addiction can also be part of a concurrent disorder – such as when a person presents with a video game addiction and co-occurring mental illness such as anxiety or depression.

What are the most common concurrent disorders?

Substance use disorder can co-occur with a wide variety of mental health conditions. 

However, studies from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) show five main concurrent disorder groups:

  • Substance addiction with anxiety and mood disorders – including panic disorder and depression
  • Substance addiction with severe and persistent mental health disorders – including schizophrenia or bipolar disorder
  • Substance addiction with eating disorders – including anorexia and bulimia
  • Substance addiction with personality disorders – including borderline personality disorder
  • Other substance use with mental health disorders – including gambling disorder and sex addiction

The connection between trauma and addiction

Various studies have shown a strong correlation between exposure to emotional trauma and substance use problems.

Trauma-related disorders, such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) frequently occur among people with substance use disorders and vice versa.

In our experience, many clients presenting with addiction issues have endured some form of trauma in their lives; these experiences may include the following:

  • Adverse childhood experiences such as abuse or neglect
  • The death of a loved one
  • Divorce or separation
  • Physical or sexual assault

Research indicates that women trauma survivors are more likely to develop mental health and substance use problems than men with similar histories.

Signs and symptoms of concurrent disorders 

Concurrent disorders can be difficult to accurately diagnose – due to the endless possible combinations of symptoms – meaning many people with the disorder receive the wrong treatment or no treatment at all.

Signs and symptoms can vary depending on the substance used, the amount taken, and other factors such as your family history, other health conditions and genetics.

In some cases, an individual may have symptoms of an addiction and mental health disorder active at the same time. For instance, they may have symptoms of depression and marijuana addiction together, making diagnosis easier.

However, a person’s symptoms can be active at different times; for example, they may experience depression without addiction symptoms or addiction symptoms without depression at different periods.

In addition, concurrent disorder symptoms may vary in intensity and duration, depending on a person’s circumstances, such as stress, relationship issues and other variables.

Concurrent disorders can be complicated to diagnose and treat – and just as challenging to live with. It can be helpful to track any signs and symptoms you may be experiencing, and the length of time you have been experiencing them.

Clinicians must simultaneously treat substance use and mental health issues for individuals to have the best chance at lasting sobriety and wellness.

Risk factors and causes

While no single cause has been identified, studies show people with concurrent disorders are likely to have more medical, social and emotional issues than those with only one condition. 

In addition, due to the complexity of concurrent disorders, diagnosis and treatment can be more challenging and may take longer.

Various risk factors are associated with concurrent disorders; for example, you may be more at risk of developing substance use and mental health issues due to the following:

  • Frequent changes in caregivers during childhood
  • Exposure to domestic violence or parental divorce in childhood
  • Sexual or physical abuse
  • Being abandoned, abused or neglected by your parents or caregivers in early life or receiving inconsistent parenting
  • Having one or more parents with a conduct disorder

Those who have been diagnosed with a concurrent disorder may also have other issues that contribute to or worsen their condition, such as:

  • A chronic physical disease or illness
  • Unemployment and unstable housing conditions
  • Family issues or other social challenges
  • Social stigma and lack of community support

Diagnosis of concurrent disorders

Obtaining a concurrent disorder diagnosis can be challenging due to the complex nature of this condition.

However, mental health professionals typically conduct detailed examinations and consultations to determine a comprehensive diagnosis for those with concurrent disorders. Because there is no specific group of concurrent disorder symptoms, this can make the process more complicated. 

The following factors need to be taken into account when determining a concurrent disorder diagnosis:

  • Substance addiction often hides or conceals symptoms of a mental illness.
  • When someone in addiction recovery relapses, it can trigger symptoms of a co-occurring disorder. For example, anxiety or depression symptoms may be exacerbated during relapse.
  • Some substances can interfere with the effectiveness of specific mental health medications.
  • Excessive drug and alcohol use can cause memory issues. This may mean individuals forget to take their prescribed mental health medication.

A holistic approach to treating concurrent disorders

Concurrent disorders can be complicated to treat, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to recovery.

Therefore, looking at the unique components of each person’s substance use and mental health challenges and where these symptoms originate can be helpful.

An integrated addiction and mental health treatment approach can help healthcare professionals better understand each individual. This approach allows treatment providers to create a personalised treatment plan that suits your unique needs, goals, and preferences.

Understanding the root cause of substance abuse is not always straightforward.

However, studies show that trauma, mental illness and substance addiction are firmly linked, allowing clinicians to treat client groups presenting with these issues more comprehensively.

Addiction and mental health treatment in Ontario

Centres for Health and Healing provides a personalised, trauma-informed approach to addiction and mental health issues.

Our treatment programs consider all the parts that need to be unpacked and worked through to ensure you get the best success with your recovery during and after treatment.

To learn more about our addiction and mental health treatment programs, contact our recovery centre in Ontario for further information and support.

Treatment approaches

Addiction and mental health issues must be treated together for individuals to recover effectively. Treatment programs involving a combination of various therapies and techniques are the most effective for those with concurrent disorders.

An effective treatment plan addresses the substance use and mental health problems simultaneously. Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule for treating concurrent disorders.

For instance, someone with an alcohol addiction may benefit from having their alcohol use disorder treated first and any underlying mental health issues addressed later.

Individuals with addiction and mental health issues benefit from an integrated treatment approach where they receive psychosocial treatments, including behavioural therapy, group and family support, individual therapy, and medication.

Personalised treatment programs provide the most success for clients with concurrent disorders; this involves creating an individualised treatment plan that suits each person’s unique needs, preferences and treatment goals.

Concurrent disorders treatment at Centres for Health and Healing

Centres for Health and Healing provides personalised addiction and mental health treatment to clients in Ontario.

In our experience, a tailored, customised approach to treating addiction and mental health issues is the most effective and ensures the best treatment outcomes for each individual.

Substance abuse is often a symptom of a much deeper, complex issue, with trauma being the gateway to most addictions. Treating addiction symptoms addresses only part of the problem. 

Therefore, part of your treatment plan will be to address the underlying emotional issues that may have caused you to engage in unhealthy coping strategies such as substance use in the first place. 

To achieve sustained recovery, the therapist and client must explore and identify what caused the individual to engage in substance abuse and, eventually, replace these unhealthy coping patterns with healthier ones.

At Centres for Health and Healing, each individual’s treatment plan will differ, depending on factors such as family history, the severity and duration of substance addiction, and the type of substance used. 

However, our addiction and mental health treatment programs typically include a combination of the following:

But that’s not all. 

Our integrated treatment approach provides clients with ongoing support long after they complete their program with us; this includes:

  • Aftercare and support to help you stay on track with your recovery
  • Relapse prevention 
  • Additional support to ensure your basic life needs are met 

The ultimate goal of treatment is to help you overcome your challenges with addiction and mental health issues, allowing you to move toward a life of health, happiness and fulfilment. 

No matter how challenging things may seem, you can create the life you’ve always wanted, and taking those initial steps and reaching out for support will help you do just that.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health and addiction issues, our friendly, experienced multidisciplinary team are here to help.

Now is the time to reach out for help and support. 

Contact Centres for Health and Healing to begin your transformative journey to lasting recovery and wellness.

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