Addiction doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Most people initially seek treatment for a substance or alcohol abuse issue, but 99.9% of the time there is something else going on that contributes to the problem. It may be a history of trauma or abuse or it could be a mental health issue like anxiety, bipolar disorder or depression.

Depressive disorders affect approximately 18.8 million American adults, or almost 10% of the U.S. adult population. Other studies suggest that number may be higher, with 30% of women being depressed and at least half that many men. Despite this epidemic, 80% of depressed people currently aren’t receiving any treatment. To put the problem in perspective, depression will be the second largest killer—after heart disease—by 2020.

Mental Health Misunderstood

Unfortunately, when it comes to mental health issues, there is often a stigma attached. While a diagnosis of nearly any other kind elicits sympathy and offers of help, depression is still misunderstood by many. In fact, despite all the progress made in this field, 54% of people still see depression as a personal weakness. As a result, many people suffer in silence. Some turn to anti-depressants, which can lessen symptoms, but there is no magic pill to “heal” depression.

A new study completed by two Duke University psychologists suggests there may be twice as many people struggling with mental health issues than previously suspected. Anxiety, depression and substance dependency were all found to be much more common than health professionals thought, according to data from a long-term study of more than 1,000 New Zealanders from birth to age 32. Part of the reason for the discrepancy may be the fact that mental illness is vastly underreported because of the stigma attached to psychological disorders. Studies to track these issues are also costly, which makes them more rare.

Depression & Addiction

Mental health and addiction professionals have long recognized that there is often a connection between mental health issues and addiction. Some struggling with depression or other mental health issues use illegal drugs, alcohol or prescription medication to self-medicate rather than seeking treatment from a trained professional. Then when help is sought, there is an addiction AND a mental health issue to treat.

In these cases, a Dual Diagnosis approach can address both areas at one time, providing the individual a better chance for long-term recovery. An evidence-based treatment model that addresses co-occurring disorders like depression and substance abuse will focus on not just stopping a client’s self-medicating, but on finding out what the individual is using the substance to mask. The professionals then replace that dangerous behavior with new, healthier tools and coping mechanisms to deal with any existing issues. Whether big or small, addressing these underlying issues gives each individual the best possible chance of success in the treatment process and at long-term recovery.