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How Are Concurrent Mental Health Disorders Diagnosed?

Concurrent disorders is an umbrella term used to identify co-occurring addiction and mental health concerns. People with a mental illness are twice as likely to have a substance use concern compared to the general population. Adding to that, 20% of individuals with a mental health concern experience a concurrent substance use issue. For individuals with schizophrenia, the percentage may be as high as 50%.

In order to attain a mental health diagnosis for a concurrent disorder, a series of consultations and examinations need to be performed by trained licensed mental health professionals. Let’s take a closer look at concurrent disorders, how it affects individuals, and how a mental health diagnosis plays an important role in the treatment plan.

A woman sipping wine from a glass

What are Concurrent Disorders? 

Concurrent disorders, also referred to as co-occurring disorders in Canada, cover health concerns ranging from mood disorders, alcohol addictions, borderline personality disorders, problems with gambling, bipolar disorders, and drug dependencies. It is a combination of concerns that may come one before the other, or at the same time, with varying degrees of intensity. 

Mental Health Diagnosis for Concurrent Disorders: Signs and Symptoms 

A mental health diagnosis for concurrent disorders depends on how the concerns can happen as a combination of symptoms and diagnoses. Specific problems can be experienced at the same or different times in the present, or in the past. The symptoms may vary in form and severity over different periods of time.

It is important to note that there is no specific set of symptoms or group of symptoms common to all types of concurrent disorder combinations. This is why obtaining a mental health diagnosis during an individual’s addiction treatment can be challenging

  1. The combinations of concurrent disorders can be identified into five main groups or categories:
  2. Substance abuse combined with mood and anxiety disorders (panic, anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder)
  3. Substance abuse combined with severe and persistent mental health disorders (bipolar disorder, schizophrenia)
  4. Substance abuse combined with personality disorder, or problems related to aggression, impulsivity, or anger
  5. Substance abuse and eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia
  6. Other forms of substance abuse and mental health disorders, such as gambling and sexual disorders

In order to understand the mental health diagnosis of concurrent disorders, let’s look at the risk factors involved.

Risk Factors Involved in Concurrent Disorders 

Mental health diagnosis plays an important role when treating concurrent disorders. However, there are certain risk factors involved in determining a treatment path. Mental health concerns and substance abuse affect each other in several manners:

  • Substance abuse can worsen mental health concerns.
  • Substance abuse can hide, or mimic the symptoms of mental health concerns.
  • In some cases, individuals turn to substance abuse to forget their mental health concerns and their symptoms.
  • Certain substances can interfere with the efficacy of mental health medications.
  • Substance abuse can make individuals forget to take their medications.
  • When an individual relapses, it can trigger the symptoms of the concurring disorder.

Treating Mental Health Disorders and Addiction Together 

When talking about a mental health diagnosis for a concurrent disorder, many ask “which came first, the substance abuse or the mental health concern?” This question is not only difficult to answer as certain issues can trigger others. It is more useful to refer to them as independent concerns that interact with one another. 

Due to the complex nature of concurrent disorders, the mental health diagnosis for patients experiencing a combination of symptoms should only be done by a licensed mental health expert in order to prevent self-medication on the patients’ end. 

When mental health issues and substance abuse problems are addressed at the same time in an integrated, coordinated manner, the success of the addiction treatment program is increased. The treatment approach depends on the severity of the patient’s diagnosis. Depending on the type and intensity of the issue, the patient will receive:

  • Psychosocial treatments, or talk therapy (individual or group sessions)
  • Biological treatments (medications)
  • A combination of both approaches

A consultation between a psychiatrist and a patient

Integrated Treatment for Concurring Disorders 

The overall addiction treatment plan should consider substance use problems and mental health issues, and in some cases, the best way is to treat one problem before the other. Most individuals who have concurrent mood and substance issues are likely to have a successful treatment if the substance addiction is addressed first. 

On the other hand, clients with severe mental health disorders and struggles with substance abuse may require an integrated treatment approach. This ensures that the treatment plan is coordinated and comprehensive for the patient. The continuing care that comes with an integrated approach ensures that the client receives help not only with concurrent disorders, but also in their quality of life, such as employment, social relationships, and housing.

An integrated treatment approach has several different stages:

Medical Detox 

Freedom From Addiction’s medically supervised detox program helps the body flush out the alcohol or drugs while providing necessary support to manage the withdrawal symptoms in the safest manner.

Drug or Alcohol Addiction Treatment 

The level of drug or alcohol addiction treatment that the patient receives depends on his or her personal needs and the severity of the dependence. Residential treatment, in-house or hospitalization, outpatient programs, and behavioural counselling are common types of treatment for drug or alcohol addiction.

Mental Health Treatment

A mental health diagnosis and treatment is a vital part of a concurrent disorders recovery plan. Co-occurring treatment is expertly designed to examine the patient’s mental health concerns and teach them how to deal with their symptoms without resorting to unhealthy coping mechanisms. These coping mechanisms can be substance abuse and/or alcohol consumption. 

Continuing Care for Concurrent Disorder Treatment

After the mental health diagnosis and the treatment plan has been completed, preventing relapse is vital for individuals who struggle with concurrent disorders. In order to help prevent patients from resorting back to their previous behaviors, an intensive continuing care program is recommended. Continuing care teaches patients valuable life skills that allow them to regain confidence and emotional support when trying to return back to their normal lives.

Freedom From Addiction offers a continuing care program that includes:

Seeking Treatment for Mental Health Diagnosis and Concurring Disorders 

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance addiction and concurrent mental health concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out. Seeking a mental health diagnosis is the first step to an effective treatment plan, and our trained mental health experts and physicians are here to support you every step of the way.

For more information about our drug and alcohol addiction treatment programs, please contact us today. A member of our team will get back to you shortly.


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