Often when you think of mental illness, a specific disorder such as schizophrenia, depression, or bipolar disorder comes to mind. What many people do not realize is that you can have more than one form of mental illness at once.
Concurrent disorders, or dual disorders, are described as a condition in which a person has both a mental illness and a substance use problem. Addictions can range from substance abuse (alcohol, drugs) to problem gambling. Identifying a concurrent disorder can often be more difficult than diagnosing a single disorder. Some disorders, like depression and alcoholism, have the ability to mimic each other.
Concurrent disorders occur, for example, when an individual who battles schizophrenia is also involved with cocaine, or when an individual who experiences chronic depression is also harmfully involved with alcohol. If the disorder is diagnosed early, the individual has a better chance of a full recovery.
According to the Canadian Centre For Substance Abuse, more than half of people who seek help for an addiction also experience mental illness. About half of those diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder will experience substance misuse issues at some point in their lives. In addition, people suffering with psychosis are more likely to experience substance abuse than those in the general population in Canada. Substance abuse relapse rates are higher in people who are experiencing concurrent disorders. Relapses happen more often when illnesses are not fully treated.
Patients may be treated for their concurrent disorder in two different systems: the mental health system and the substance abuse treatment system. Unfortunately, “bouncing” between the two systems may interfere with a patient’s ability to recover fully. In order for patients to receive the best treatment, mental health and addiction professionals must work together simultaneously. The Capital District Health Authority is committed to a model that will ensure better collaboration between the two services.
Integrated treatment plans ensure that the treatment of concurrent disorders is coordinated between the patient, the psychiatrist and the addiction support staff.
The combinations of concurrent disorders can be divided into five main groups:
- Substance use AND mood and anxiety disorders, like depression or panic disorder
- Substance use AND severe and persistent mental health disorders, like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder
- Substance use AND personality disorders, like borderline personality disorder, or problems related to anger, impulsivity or aggression
- Substance use AND eating disorders, like anorexia nervosa or bulimia
- Substance use AND other mental health and addictive disorders, such as gambling
If you know of someone who is suffering from a mental illness or substance abuse, please see the CAMH series of self-directed tutorials. These tutorials introduce topics concerning substance abuse and mental health problems.
For additional information on concurrent disorders, please watch this YouTube video, created by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.