The solution to any addiction is simple: you stop engaging in the behaviour, or stop consuming the substance, that you’re addicted to. But stopping is never easy.
It’s difficult to identify one single thing that explains why overcoming addiction is so challenging. In some cases, substances or external stimulants condition our bodies to want more. In other situations, an addiction is the result of a completely different issue, like trauma or anxiety.
When an addiction exists alongside a mental health issue the combination is known as a concurrent disorder. A concurrent can be exceedingly difficult to overcome.
What is a Concurrent Disorder?
A concurrent disorder is the combination of a mental health problem and an addiction. Many people who suffer from addiction also suffer from a mental health issue, making concurrent disorders quite common.
In some cases, a person suffering from addiction may develop a mental health issue as the result of the physical and mental stress their behaviour causes. In other scenarios, a person suffering from a mental health issue may be driven to take solace in drugs or destructive behaviour.
Examples of Concurrent Disorders
Though there are numerous types of concurrent disorders, some concurrent disorders are more common than others. Let’s take a look at some of the most common manifestations.
Substance addiction and depression is a common pair. For example, a person who is depressed may turn to alcohol as an escape mechanism. Alternatively, a person who drinks may recognize they have a problem, but feel powerless to fix it, and become depressed as a result.
As a second example, let’s look at a behavioural addiction paired with anxiety.
Someone who’s addicted to videogames, for instance, may feel anxious when they’re away from their console or computer, because all they can think about is playing. Alternatively, this anxiety may grow from the understanding that the person is ignoring their responsibilities – e.g. chores, work, etc. – and they will eventually have to face undesired consequences.
The Difficulty of Concurrent Disorders
The biggest complication of concurrent disorders is that they tend to be self-perpetuating. Returning first to the alcohol-depression example above, we can see this perpetuation in action.
A person is depressed so they drink. They realize they’ve developed a problem and feel depressed about it. They try to quit, but can’t, and so they continue to drink. Their failure to quit makes them more depressed. So they drink.
In our videogame-anxiety example, this works in a similar manner. A person feels anxious when they’re away from a certain videogame. To alleviate this anxiety they play the game. Once it’s time to stop playing – to make dinner, go to work, see a friend, etc. – they instead keep on playing. Falling behind on life maintenance or heightening social isolation only further increases their anxiety. So they seek escape in the videogame.
In this way, concurrent disorders tangle two issues into one complex ball, making it that much harder to sort.
How Concurrent Disorders are Treated
Treating a concurrent disorder is challenging. It’s difficult enough to overcome an addiction or mental health issue. Overcoming both simultaneously is even harder. And this isn’t just because there’s twice the work to do.
Let’s return one last time to the examples above. If an individual suffers from both an alcohol addiction and depression, treating their addiction in isolation is nearly impossible. Because even if they learn helpful techniques to avoid drinking, the source of their addiction remains intact. So long as they’re depressed, the chance is high they will eventually resume drinking.
On the other hand, if a person receives care or medication to overcome depression, but continues to suffer from alcohol addiction, they are at tremendous risk of lapsing back into a depressed state, since their addiction is likely to make them feel hopeless and without control.
This is why concurrent disorders must be treated holistically. When approached as two halves of one issue, rather than two separate issues, progress is obtainable. The first step is often making this connection explicit, then treating the concurrent disorder as a single, inextricable condition.
Therapists and Concurrent Disorders
The complexity of concurrent disorders necessitates professional help. While someone who has struggled with alcohol addiction in the past can be a great resource for someone currently fighting an alcohol addiction, the whole ballgame changes if that person is also fighting depression.
Professionally trained psychotherapists are invaluable for treating concurrent disorders in Toronto and Ontario. Because they are knowledgeable of human psychology and understand the pathology of behaviour on a deeper level than someone who can only empathize, they are better able to aid someone stuck in the concurrent disorder cycle.
Anyone seeking help for a concurrent disorder should find a program in which they will have access to a therapist. Without a therapist, overcoming a concurrent disorder is exponentially more difficult.