We've all heard the term addiction used to describe
people who abuse substances, such as alcohol or drugs, and we know
that the drugs people can become addicted to can be both
prescription and illegal. The term Concurrent disorders is
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 and refers to a wide range of mental illnesses
and addictions. For example, someone with schizophrenia who abuses
cannabis 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.
Another term for concurrent disorder is comorbidity. In the United
States, the terms dual diagnosis, dual disorder, or mentally ill
chemical abuser are used.
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. The question of which typically
occurs first, the addiction or the mental illness, is similar to
that of the chicken and the egg. While certain substances, like
alcohol, a depressant, can cause symptoms of depression, many
develop addictions because of their attempt to “self-medicate” for
their mental illness, i.e., Someone with an anxiety disorder may
smoke cannabis in an attempt to decrease their anxiety.
*In the general population rates of substance abuse are
16.7% but range from under 20% (Hall, Popkin & DeVaul, 1977) to
over 65% (Ananth et al., 1989) for people with serious mental