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Substance Use Blog Series: Concurrent Disorders

Today’s Substance Use Blog Series post is about disorders/experiences that can occur at the same time as problematic substance use. This is what concurrent means, which is literally defined as “occurring at the same time” (Mirriam-Webster). Disorders/experiences can co-occur in a variety of ways. They can be active at the same time or different times, and symptoms may vary in intensity over time (Kelty Mental Health).

“Disorders” vs. “Challenges”

The experience of substance use challenges at the same time as another mental struggle is usually referred to as a concurrent disorder, but some people choose to use different language. There has been some criticism towards diagnosing fluctuating experiences like depression and anxiety as disorders, because they are often normal responses to stressful life events, rather than “not functioning as intended,” which is what mental disorders are intended to describe [1]. At the same time, some people choose to continue using the language of disorders once because it feels validating to categorize a difficult experience, and to know that it is recognized by mental health authorities and that others experience it as well.

The chosen language to describe mental health struggles is a very personal thing and is ultimately up to each person who goes through the experiences.

How different disorders/experiences can interact

A common question that comes up in relation to concurrent disorders/experiences is which one comes first, and there is no blanket answer to this. Presentation can come in any order or severity of intensity. Mental health and substance use challenges can affect each other in many ways, such as:

  • Substance use can make mental health challenges worse
  • Substance use can mimic or hide the symptoms of mental health challenges
  • Sometimes people turn to substances to forget the symptoms of mental health challenges
  • Some substances can make mental health medications less effective
  • When a person relapses with one challenge, it can trigger the symptoms of the other (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health).

It is important to understand the relationship between substance use and other challenges/disorders if you experience more than one. This is because, only addressing one could result in an incomplete approach.

For example, you could only address substance use when the desire to use is actually covering up a deeper struggle that also needs attention, or you could only treat depression when substance use is actually exacerbating it. In this case, addressing the substance use could alter the way depression shows up.

Considering the way different challenges interact with each other is not meant to be overwhelming, but rather to encourage a more holistic and accurate view of what you are going through. In this post we went through the bio-psycho-social-spiritual model of substance use that also aims to encourage a holistic view of your experiences. This post has some self-directive tips, but the best way to explore the intersection between these experiences accurately is through one-on-one counselling. We provide such counselling to delta residents and can be accessed by calling the Substance Use Intake line at
604-594-3455 ext. 108. This post also details other substance use/mental health resources in delta that you can explore.



[1] Horwitz, A. V. (2014). The DSM and the Outcomes of Stressful Social Arrangements. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 48, 211-222.


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