Concurrent Disorders describes a condition in which a person has both a mental illness and a substance use problem. This term is a general one that refers to a wide range of mental illnesses and addictions. For example, someone with schizophrenia who is addicted to crack has a concurrent disorder, as does an individual who suffers from chronic depression and who is also an alcoholic. Treatment approaches for each case could be quite different.
It is challenging to determine conclusively how many people have a concurrent disorder because existing studies examine different populations and utilize differing screening tools. What is known conclusively is that people with mental illness have much higher rates of addiction than people in the general population. Similarly, individuals with an addiction have much higher rates of mental illness than people in the general population.
People with concurrent disorders are frequently misidentified, as diagnosis can be more difficult because one disorder can mimic another. Relapse rates for substance use are higher for people with a concurrent mental disorder, as are the chances that symptoms of mental illness will return for those with a concurrent substance use problem.
Those with concurrent disorders need help and services from several sectors – mental health, addiction, health care, education, and social services. It is essential to integrate mental health services with addiction treatment services as well as the developmental and mental health sectors.
Mental illnesses and substance use disorders are more prevalent among people experiencing homelessness and inmates than in the general population. Their prevalence among these segments of the Canadian population is growing. Improving access to the services and supports these individuals need requires inter-jurisdictional collaboration.