10 Most Common Addictions Plaguing Health in America

Common parlance tosses about the word “addiction” as if little more than a particularly zealous love of something (or, in some particularly disheartening cases, someone), but reality is far more grim than that. When one’s body and mind become wholly ensconced in their obsession, then they can truly be considered an addict in the psychological, clinical sense. Depression, anxiety, compulsion and other mental illnesses or emotional issues usually trigger the onset of addictive behaviors – although they are by no means the only origins.

The following list glimpses some of the most common ones in the United States, though the substance abuse statistics may not entirely reflect real addiction rates. Data collected by the United States Department of Health and Human Services polls individuals based on their respective substance use in the prior month. Many of them may only be casual consumers – some may even have tried a drug for the first time before polling began. Just because one abuses a drug does not inherently make one an addict. So the actual rate of real dependency will likely be lower than the statistics regarding use reflect.


University of Maryland issued a challenge to 200 volunteers in order to see how many of them could go without different forms of mass media for 24 hours. They had hoped to calculate exactly how psychologically, emotionally – maybe even physically – that college students (if not society as a whole) had become on their media devices. For 24 hours, they went without internet, television, MP3 players and other gadgetry and recorded their thoughts along the way. Some made it, some didn’t, but almost all of them struggled with feeling disconnected from their friends and family. The study only covered college age students and did not dredge up any formal statistics, but few readers will likely find any of their conclusions surprising when used as a reflection of society as a whole. The subjects’ almost complete dependence on the internet, text messaging, television and more certainly fits the criteria of addiction, though – as with anything else – severity varies from case to case. In many ways, it is a collective reliance that even affects even those who do not directly indulge in the latest technologies. Probably the most common addiction in the United States.

Tobacco (Nicotine)

70.9 million Americans, as of studies conducted by the United States Department of Health and Human Services in 2008, routinely used tobacco products in a manner that met the criteria for substance abuse. 23.9% of the overall population – not to mention the staggering majority of tobacco users – received their nicotine fix through cigarettes, with cigars, smokeless tobacco and pipe tobacco trailing very far behind. Rates seem to remain generally steady, with few significant spikes poking in any direction. 41.4% of tobacco users fell into the 18-25-year-old demographic, 61.7% indulged daily and a staggering 49.1% stated that they smoked 16 cigarettes (or the equivalent) a day. The sheer prevalence of tobacco abuse renders it the most common addiction in the United States, likely owing to the fact that smoking is largely a socially acceptable habit with easily accessible components.


Alcohol, when consumed in moderation, can make for a flavorful companion to a nice meal or a night out with friends. However, alcohol abuse permeates nearly every age demographic, with most addicts using it as a tool of self-medication in place of getting serious psychological help. The USDHHS, as of 2008, reported that 19 million individuals over the age of 12 (with 1.2 million of these between 12 and 17) needed treatment for alcoholism the previous year. Only 1.6 million actually sought out psychological assistance, leaving the vast majority to either ignore the issue entirely or find their own paths towards addressing it. 651,000 of the 17.4 million who had yet to enter into treatment admitted that they needed help. Studies conducted by the U.S. government have revealed that 31% of college students fit the criteria for regular alcohol abuse, with 6% displaying the symptoms of a serious dependency.


Controversy regarding marijuana addictive properties abound, though individuals can become psychologically dependent on anything. 6.1% of the population over the age of 12 meets the American government’s criteria for current substance abuse of marijuana. 15% of regular users admitted to indulging 300 days or more out of the year, and 35.7% said they ingested the drug at least 20 or more days in one month. 75.7% of individuals who consumed illicit drugs included marijuana in their diet, with 57.3% using it exclusively – an interesting statistic considering its reputation as a “gateway drug.” Although some demographics are more likely to use or abuse marijuana than others – more men indulge than women, for example – its general affordability, accessibility and modicum of acceptance (at least, over cocaine, heroin and harsher substances) contributes to its prevalence amongst different classes, races, genders and gender identity and other criteria the government uses to categorize people. For statistical purposes, the USDHHS includes hashish in with marijuana data.


The majority of individuals in the United States – if not the world – seem to associate eating disorders with anorexics and bulimics. However, the oft-overlooked binge eating disorder, which differs from bulimia in that it does not phase into purging, also contains the same compulsive, addictive behaviors as its more high-profile counterpart. Contrary to popular assumption, individuals suffering from a food addiction come in all sizes – not just morbidly obese. No different than any other eating disorder in that regard, actually. An estimated 2.8% of Americans struggle with chronic overeating regardless of their body shape. Some scientists believe that chronic overeating stems from an emotional and biochemical dependency on sugar, which may contain components as addictive as many illicit substances.


Gambling simultaneously inspires an adrenaline rush in addition to stimulating a person’s desire to constantly acquire possessions and wealth. Considering its legality and comparative social acceptance – the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling estimates that 80% of American adults have gambled at least once – the prevalence of such an addiction makes perfect sense. Around 2-3% of the population suffers from some form of disordered gambling, though the sub-clinical pathological diagnosis is more common than the full-bore pathological. .9%-2.3% of the population has dealt with sub-clinical pathological gambling, as opposed to only .42%-.6% for pathological.

Prescription Drugs

The abuse of prescription drugs exists as one of the most common, yet strangely overlooked, addictions in the United States. Second only to marijuana, in fact. No matter their type – Vicodin, OxyContin, Ritalin and Adderall tend to receive the most attention when it comes to illegal use of legal substances – the USDHHS lumps indulging in any of them together as the “nonmedical use of prescription psychotherapeutic drugs and prescription stimulants” when gathering data. 20.1% of Americans admitted to illicit drug abuse or addiction, with 6.2 million people admitting to taking advantage of prescription medications for nonmedical reasons. Painkillers ranked the highest in terms of popularity, with 1.9% of all persons over the age of 12 confessing misuse. Tranquilizers, stimulants and sedatives trail behind, with only .1% of Americans meeting the criteria for abuse for the least common drug. The majority of prescription drug abusers, around 55.9%, accessed their drugs of choice via a friend or a relative completely gratis. 8.9% of them paid, and 5.4% resorted to stealing them. 18% received a prescription of their own, either dismissing a legitimate doctor’s orders or ending up with more than necessary from an unscrupulous medical professional. 4.3% bought the drugs straight from a dealer, while .4% preferred the internet.


Depression usually accompanies bulimia as a comorbid disorder, and many suffering from the illness find solace in the act of binging and purging. Vomiting actually releases endorphins that alleviate the emotional pain, hence why so many bulimics find it so difficult to kick the habit. Because of this, the eating disorder can also be interpreted as a form of addiction. Similar to chronic overeating, bulimia involves compulsive behavior in order to quell severe anxiety – it isn’t usually about food or looking pretty (society’s 2 most popular assumptions about the eating disordered) so much as trying to make things feel better. 1% of Americans are estimated to suffer from this eating disorder in their lifetime. The majority of these cases will be female, though men do receive diagnoses as well.


1.9 million Americans, or .7% of the population, enjoy the stimulating experience of riding white ponies. The USDHHS tends to lump crack and cocaine together in its statistics, which counts illicit drug abuse as “use within the past month.” Marijuana and prescription drugs considerably overshadow cocaine use, likely due to its high cost and lessened accessibility in the United States – not to mention the undeniably significant physical damage, usually to the brain and nasal passages. Crack use between 2007 and 2008 declined, though cocaine stayed about the same. This marks one of the few times that the statistics make any distinction between the 2 substances.


As with previous illicit substances, the USDHHS groups similar ones together for a broader look at use and abuse. They classify “LSD, PCP, peyote, mescaline, psilocybin mushrooms, and ‘Ecstasy’ (MDMA)” under the “Hallucinogens” heading, though others exist beyond these comparatively common drugs. They only beat out inhalants and heroin in terms of popularity, with 1.1 million admitting to abusing one or more in the month before polling. This represents around .4% of the population over the age of 18. In spite of the attention paid to ecstasy the past few years, LSD actually edges it out as the most common hallucinogen. Of the 1.1 million users polled by the USDHHS, 802,000 admitted to LSD, while 555,000 admitted to Ecstasy. However, the rise of Ecstasy as a popular club drug did lead to an increase in youths and adults abusing hallucinogens.

For the addicted and their loved ones alike, trying to kick an emotional, mental and physical dependence on an external stimulus will likely prove the direst challenge of their lives. Fortunately, however, hundreds (if not thousands) medical and psychological facilities – not to mention support groups! – exist across the United States to guide them through the process of breaking unhealthy habits and mindsets. Take advantage of their experience and desire to help. Not everyone can or should go through such ugly times alone.