What Is the Fastest Growing Addiction?

What Is the Fastest Growing Addiction?

Prescription painkillers, gambling and porn—take your pick. All have been reported about and described as “America’s fastest growing addiction.” The “winner” doesn’t matter as much as how this information should inform our education and treatment approaches, and how we view the place of these substances and behaviors in our lives and the lives of our loved ones.

When most people think of addiction, they think of the ones that outwardly appear to be the most common addictions—alcohol, food and perhaps certain illicit drugs such as heroin or cocaine. And each of these substances will continue to fill treatment centers with addicts every year, but their numbers are relatively stable. There has not been, for example, a massive rise in alcoholism. People continue to be alcoholics, but not in new, record numbers.

While we will continue to need education and enforced restrictions around alcohol, tobacco and drugs, it is important to take notice of the new, on-the-rise addictions that should be garnering greater resources for education and prevention, increased media focus and better treatment options for those who desire to recover. Addictions progress when they persist unchecked in silence. Here are three “fastest growing addictions” we should all be aware of.

Prescription Painkillers

According to  the New York Times, “Prescription drug abuse is America’s fastest-growing drug problem. Every 19 minutes, someone dies from a prescription drug overdose in the United States, triple the rate in 1990. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prescription painkillers (like oxycodone) are largely to blame. More people die from ingesting these drugs than from cocaine and heroin combined.”

Because prescription opioids are prescribed by doctors and typically obtained by legal means, they are assumed to be safe. However, though the drugs are initially taken for the medical management of pain, they are highly addictive. As the body develops tolerance to the drug, it is required in escalating doses. Doctors, in an attempt to keep patients satisfied, and often not having the time to delve into more involved, multi-approach strategies for pain management, frequently comply by simply upping the dose. Privacy practices around patient medical records also mean that patients can skip from one doctor to another to obtain multiple prescriptions.


While currently 2 percent to 4 percent of the population struggles with problem gambling, this addiction is on the rise, due in part to the ease and accessibility of online gambling and money-based gaming. The largest and fastest spike in the number of compulsive gamblers has been among the teen population.

With compulsive gambling, the addict gets a high out of the entire process—the lead up, the betting, the risk taking—and while the win certainly brings a greater satisfaction than a loss, the entire scene so powerfully ignites the reward center in the brain that the addict cannot stop, despite financial instability, the anger, threats or ultimatums of loved ones or the risk of great loss.

Though it may start small, once the thrill is ingrained in the mind, gambling has the potential to become a severe mental health issue, leading to the stealing of gambling money or the use of parents’ credit cards to fuel online gambling. Crime is nearly always the result of prolonged problem gambling. No matter how much money the individual makes, it is never enough to keep the addiction going.

Pornography Addiction

As the Internet gets faster and affords greater and more widespread accessibility, the national addiction to online pornography only grows. Pornography addiction, despite its sexual veneer, should not be confused with sex addiction—though both are making addicts in quick succession. Today’s Internet porn—more hardcore, novel and graphic than ever before—is as powerful as any drug, and even more addicting. What users often fail to realize is that porn does indeed function on the brain as a drug would, creating such a strong high that it is often impossible to resist.

The highly narcotic-like effects of porn must be a part of any addiction education program. Like any other drug, pornography quickly takes over the life of the addict and can have long term detrimental effects on the addict’s sexuality, sex life, romantic relationships, productivity and sexual function. Porn is especially damaging in that even when the user has decided to quit the addiction and abstain for viewing online pornography, the graphic sexual images remain in the memory continually taunting him or her back to the screen.

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