Ten of the Most Common Addictions

Have you ever wondered what the most common addictions are in today’s society? Here, we will take a whistle-stop tour through them.

According to Psychology Today, addiction is “a condition in which a person engages in the use of a substance or in a behavior for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeatedly pursue the behavior despite detrimental consequences.”

The term addiction can refer to both a substance dependency, such as that of alcohol or illicit drugs, and a behavioral addiction, which is an inability to stop partaking in activities, such as gambling and video gaming. Addiction is a chronic and complex disease and when a person experiences it, they cannot control how and when they use a substance or partake in an activity. They become dependent on it, and it can take complete precedence over daily life.

The effects of addiction can significantly impact on both self and others, including harm to physical and mental health, relationships, a person’s safety and finances. In the US alone, addiction to alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs and prescription opioids costs the economy approximately $740 billion annually in healthcare and treatment costs, lost work productivity and the effects of crime.

Most Common Addictions


Why addiction occurs is not down to just one simple cause. Genetic and other biological factors are believed to contribute to a person’s vulnerability to addiction; some people are believed to be inherently prone to reward-seeking behaviors and impulsivity. Psychological and environmental factors are also key contributors, and they can have a powerful influence over both substance use and behavioral addiction.

The data and statistics we have gathered about the ten most common addictions come from various sources, including the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), the North American Foundation for Gambling Addiction Help, the Addiction Center, the National Institute of Drug Abuse and HealthLine. Addictions one to four are in order of the most common addictions, the others are in a random order, as statistics on these addictions are still relatively inconsistent.

Read on to find out about ten of the most common addictions, some may surprise you more than others!

10. Work

While hard work is typically considered a positive characteristic and something people admire, when it becomes an obsession it becomes a problem. Turning dedication into addiction can be destructive for both a person’s health and relationships. Work addiction is believed to derive from an increasingly consumer driven culture, where people have a compulsive need to make as much money as possible to achieve status and success, or to escape emotional stress. Work addiction, often called workaholism, is a real mental health condition, with people experiencing a “burnout” when working to the point of physical or emotional exhaustion.

9. Shopping

Shopping addiction, also known as omniomania, is a behavioural addiction that involves compulsive shopping, often as a way to feel good and avoid negative feelings. Many of us live in a culture where consumerism is a measure of social worth and advertising suggesting that buying will make us happy constantly surrounds us, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a shopping addiction can take over as a preoccupation. Short-term, it may make a person feel positive and happy, but these feelings are often mixed with anxiety and guilt. Long-term, the financial hits can be substantial, with people becoming overwhelmed with debt. Relationships can also be affected.

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8. Sex

Still considered a controversial addiction, sex addiction is described as a compulsive need to engage in certain sexual behaviours despite the negative consequences it may have to the self and others. While there is no official clinical diagnosis of sex addiction, it’s believed that a person with sex addiction may seek out multiple sex partners, have a compulsive need to masturbate, have a fixation on an unattainable partner, or have a compulsive desire to be in sexually stimulating situations. Although statistics are pretty inconsistent, it’s argued to be somewhat common, and still relatively undiagnosed.

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7. Internet

Another global concern is internet addiction. It’s yet to be officially recognized as a disorder and has varying statistics about its prevalence, but it’s believed to be common in cultures worldwide. People with an internet addiction are said to spend an increasing amount of time on the internet at the expense and risk of relationships, jobs and studying, they may feel guilty and secretive about their internet usage and experience symptoms of withdrawal when away from their computers. The rise of other addictions, like gambling, shopping and sex addictions can be linked back to the internet.

6. Video games

Over two billion people play video games worldwide, with statistics indicating there are 150 million gamers in the US alone. For most individuals, gaming is a fun hobby, but for some, it can have significant negative impacts on relationships, education, work, and physical and mental health. There are many different reasons why video games can become so addictive, one main reason being that they’re designed to be that way. Video game designers want people to play their game so they design games that are challenging enough that success feels just out of reach, but not so tricky that players want to give up. This fuels gamers to keep coming back for more. A failure to control this desire in a safe and responsible manner can lead to addiction.

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5. Food

Food addiction is on the rise, with the main symptoms including craving and binging on unhealthy foods, even when not hungry, an inability to resist these urges and withdrawal symptoms when abstaining from certain foods. Foods full of fat and sugar can activate the brain’s reward system, similar to the way addictive drugs do. This can override the brain’s normal ability to tell an individual to stop eating, leading them to eat more and more. It’s a serious problem that can have a significant impact on both a person’s health and emotional well-being. Health risks such as obesity and type 2 diabetes are increased and excessive weight can have negative effects on self-esteem and body image.

David Pereiras/Shutterstock.com

David Pereiras/Shutterstock.com

4. Gambling

The increase in availability and accessibility of gambling has contributed to a rise in gambling addiction and according to the North American Foundation for Gambling Addiction Help, 2.6% of the US population has some type of gambling issue. But why can some people walk away after a few rounds and others can’t? There is no one reason, but some experts believe that psychological factors, like partial reward reinforcement, compel them to keep playing. People expect to be reinforced with a win some of the time and even after a string of losses, some gamblers have a need to keep going as they expect to eventually win. Games like slot machines, which work based on the principles of randomness, are believed to heighten this reinforcement. Similar to video games, the nature of their design is enticing for players. Success is made to feel just out of reach – an almost winning spin isn’t failing, it’s almost succeeding. This motivates players to keep spinning.

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3. Drugs

Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) showed that, in 2016, about 7.4 million Americans aged 12 and older had an illicit drug use disorder. The main drugs that attributed to these figures were marijuana, affecting about 4 million Americans, and prescription pain relievers, affecting 1.8 million Americans. Cocaine and heroin also contributed to this disorder. Drug addiction is a chronic and complex disease, characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive and uncontrollable. This repeated drug use can lead to brain changes that challenge an addicted person’s ability to resist the urge to continue taking drugs. Even people in recovery are at increased risk of relapse due to these persistent changes in the brain.

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2. Alcohol

Alcohol addiction, also known as Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), affects people from all walks of life. It’s believed to affect around 16 million people in the United States alone – this is more than 6% of the population. AUD has no single cause, with psychological, genetic and behavioural factors all potential contributors. With alcohol being widely accepted and available in most cultures, it can be difficult to recognize and distinguish from alcohol misuse. Someone typically has an alcohol addiction if they’re unable to stay sober for an extended period of time and they have a heavy reliance on alcohol, in spite of the harmful effects caused. While some people can overcome AUD on their own, many people need assistance.

Pixabay/Public Domain

Pixabay/Public Domain

1.    Tobacco

Found in tobacco products, nicotine is a highly addictive substance. Approximately 50 million people in America are addicted to some form of tobacco product, making it the most common addiction in the US. The addiction to nicotine is down to the way it’s processed by the body. When smoke enters the lungs, the nicotine is quickly absorbed in the blood and delivered to the brain, activating the brain reward system. These effects dissipate quickly, so the user continues to maintain the pleasurable effect, reinforcing the physical desire to smoke. With tobacco being widely available and only 6% of smokers able to quit in a given year, nicotine addiction isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Diego Cervo/Shutterstock.com

Diego Cervo/Shutterstock.com