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The Most Common Addictions in the United States

As defined by the Addiction Center, “Addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease defined by a physical and psychological dependence on drugs, alcohol or a behavior. When an addictive disorder has formed, a person will pursue their toxic habits despite putting themselves or others in harm’s way.”

Regardless of the reason, such as genetics or mental health disorders, the first step to getting help is to identify and understand addiction so that you or someone you care about can receive the right treatment. Because of this, here is a list of the most common addictions in the United States.


Tobacco products, which are legal depending on your age, contain the highly-addictive substance. While this may not seem as severe as other addictions, smoking comes with a lengthy list of health concerns. it’s estimated that anywhere from around 40 to 60 million Americans use tobacco products.


Like tobacco, alcohol is legal if you’re over the age of 21. It’s also readily available and is not frowned upon socially. However, alcohol use disorder affects more than 14 million people in the United States. This can lead to health problems, such as liver disease, as well as motor vehicle impairment and violent activities including spousal and child abuse.


Marijuana is becoming legalized in many states around the country. Because of this, most people do not realize that it can be addictive. In fact, as of 2017, over 4 million people have dealt with marijuana use disorder. Additionally, 6% of full-time college students in the United States were daily marijuana smokers

Prescription Drugs

Many people dismiss prescription drug addictions since they’ve been prescribed by medical treatments to treat ailments like pain. However, this has become a serious concern as more and more Americans have become addicted to these drugs. For example, approximately 1.7 million people over the age of 12 have reported a pain reliever use disorder.

Addiction to prescription drugs can have dire consequences including health issues, death, financial loss, arrests, and conflicts with loved ones.

  • Painkillers like codeine, Vicodin and Oxycontin.

  • Benzodiazepines, also known as “Benzos,” like Valium, Xanax, Diazepam and Klonopin

  • Stimulates, including Adderall or Ritalin.

  • Sedatives (barbiturates) for sleeping disorders or to treat tension.

Cocaine & Heroin

These are two of the most common illegal drug addictions. As with prescription drugs, addiction can lead to health concerns, arrests, financial loss, and conflicts with friends, family, and employers.

It’s estimated that 966,000 American adults have battled a cocaine use disorder, with 637,000 people receiving treatment. Meanwhile, 652,000 adults have had a heroin use disorder.


Because it’s essential, food addiction may easily get overlooked. However, it’s been found that for some people the brain has the same response to fats and sugars that addicts have to drugs. Additionally, the CDC has found that 71% of the US population age 20 and older is either overweight or obese.

The consequences of overeating can be obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.


Gambling is legal for most adults. But, there is a percentage of the population, roughly 1-3%, that have gambling problems. As a result, they may experience problems at home and financially. Some may even resort to stealing.

Sex & Pornography

“Practitioners in the country’s mental health community still can’t come to an agreement about how to regard a multitude of dysfunctions ranging from compulsive masturbation to uncontrollable infidelity to illegal behaviors including exhibitionism and child pornography,” writes Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW writes in an article for PYSCOM. “These get lumped together under the label ‘sex addiction’ and affect between 3 to 6% of the US population. There is even disagreement over whether sex addiction or, as it’s frequently called, compulsive sexual behavior disorder, is a treatable mental disorder.”

This disorder is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). “The rationale for the exclusion is that sex addiction does not cause physical symptoms of withdrawal such as illness or anxiety,” adds Amatenstein. “Another concern is not to stigmatize the LGBTQ and transgender communities, people who enjoy kink, non-monogamous behavior and other out-of-the-accepted ‘normal’ standards of sexuality. However, this exclusion makes it extremely difficult to receive reimbursement for treatment.”

Internet & Smartphone

Research states that the number of internet addicts in the USA and Europe at 8.2% of the entire population. In a piece for Forbes, Brian Scudamore writes that “the brain on ‘smartphone’ is the same as the brain on cocaine: we get an instant high every time our screen lights up with a new notification.”

This is because it releases dopamine, “the feel-good chemical that gets released every time you do something you enjoy.” Scudamore adds, “Dopamine reinforces (and motivates) behavior that makes us feel good and, in turn, can create addiction.”

These types of addictions can lead to isolation, depression, insomnia, weight gain, and neglecting personal obligations like work.


There are no reliable statistics regarding work addiction. However, Mark D. Griffiths Ph.D. states in Psychology Today that in a literature review he co-authored, it’s estimated “the prevalence of work addiction among Americans at 10%.” But, other “estimates are as high as 15%-25% among employed individuals although some of these estimates appear to relate to excessive and committed working rather than a genuine addictive behavior.”

Some believe that being addicted to work can result in psychological and/or physical illness. This includes anxiety, stress, depression, and isolation.


Compulsive buying or shopping affects about 18 million adults in the United States. Although not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), some experts believe that people have a compulsion to spend money, even if they don’t have it, as a way to cope with emotional problems in their lives.

It’s believed that those with a shopping addiction over making purchases and feel euphoric afterward. This can lead to serious financial and relationship issues.

What to do if you have an addiction.

Regardless of the addiction, you must first admit that you, or a loved one, has a problem. In some cases, you may be on your way to recovery with the assistance of friends, family, and specialists.

Depending on the severity, you may have to enter a rehab facility. Choosing the right facility starts with one that focuses on the specific addiction. There are other considerations, such as location, cost, and what other services and amenities are provided.

If you or someone you know has an addiction, please contact a trained professional as soon as possible. And, full disclaimer, this article is intended only for informational purposes and not to diagnose or treat any medical or mental health condition.

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