Mental Health and Substance Use

October 10, 2018. Article by: Government of B.C.

Being mentally well can mean you feel good about life, and it can mean that you feel you’re reaching your potential and accomplishing your goals. It’s common, though, for people to experience mental health or substance use challenges that interfere with those feelings of well-being. In fact, one in five Canadians will deal with a mental health challenge, a substance use challenge, or both at the same time.

Someone dealing with stress, anxiety, depression or another mental health challenge may use alcohol or other drugs to cope with how they’re feeling. Using substances may make a person feel better for a short while, but regular or heavy use can actually create mental health issues like depression or anxiety.  It can also cause existing mental health problems to become worse over time.

When people experience mental health and substance use challenges at the same time, it’s called a concurrent disorder. The problems might start independent of each other, or one problem might lead to the other. An example of a concurrent disorder is experiencing depression while living with alcohol dependence.

Symptoms of Concurrent Disorders

It can take time for a person to notice or develop symptoms and symptoms can range from mild to severe. Read more about symptoms here.

Causes of Concurrent Disorders

The reasons are complex and are different for everyone. Mental health and substance use challenges are often rooted in deeper issues like early childhood trauma (abuse, neglect, or exposure to violence), genetics, or problems in a person’s community, within their family or with peers.

How to Get Help

Reach out for help if you know someone experiencing mental health and substance use problems, or if you are concerned about yourself. Here are a few ways to find support:

1. Talk to a healthcare professional. Find mental health services near you.

2. Call one of these services:

  • HealthLink BC at 8-1-1 for non-medical emergencies to speak to a health service navigator who can help you find information and services.
  • The BC Alcohol and Drug Information and Referral Service provides 24-hour individual, family, and small group counselling for people of all ages who are affected by alcohol and other drug use. Call toll-free: 1-800-663-1441 from anywhere in B.C.
  • The Crisis Line provides emotional support and help for mental health issues. Crisis lines aren’t only for people in crisis. You can call for information on local services or if you just need someone to talk to. Call 310-6789 (no area code required).  

3. Take a self-assessment. offers screening self-tests that help you look at your mental health and for signs or symptoms. Self-test results are not a medical diagnosis, but can give you a snapshot of your feelings and can be a good way to start a conversation with your doctor or someone else who’s supporting you. Also try the You and Substance Use Workbook.

4. Have courageous conversations. Talking with a loved one about mental health and substance use may not be easy. But open, honest, and caring conversations are a crucial step on the path to recovery. Here’s a guide on how to start talking.

Related articles

Here to Help: Learn About Co-existing Problems
BC Children’s Hospital: Youth Concurrent Disorders
World Mental Health Day: Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World
HealthLink BC: Substance Use and Mental Health Issues