According to recent data provided by Johns Hopkins Medicine, substance abuse disorders affect more than 20 million Americans. The Centers for Disease Control reports that more than 2.5 million American middle and high school students use e-cigarettes. In a recent online survey, 48% of all respondents considered themselves addicted or somewhat addicted to digital devices, and psychologists estimate 10% of Americans are addicted to work.
There’s nothing wrong with engaging in behavior that makes us feel good. It’s not wrong to want to experience pleasure or to seek out whatever brings us joy. However, when these compulsions become so extreme that our behavior harms us or puts others at risk, there’s a good chance we’ve crossed over into addiction. When drinking or taking pills or using chemical substances or vaping or playing video games or shopping or working becomes so extreme it begins to have a negative effect on our lives, it’s likely we’ve crossed over into addiction.
But why do we do things that harm us? Why do we crave destructive habits and patterns? According to the National Institutes of Health, genetic and environmental factors — especially when our minds and bodies are still growing and developing — can make us more susceptible to addictive behaviors.
Beyond genetics, environmental factors can drive addiction. The isolation, the frustration and fear generated by the COVID-19 pandemic sparked a mental health crisis across the world that caused many to develop addictions to behaviors that may have started out as coping mechanisms. In the end, the root causes of addiction are varied and complex.
In the stories linked below, Kokopelli staff reporters take a deeper look into behaviors people in America are most addicted to in order to analyze common habitual patterns, and to provide resources for understanding addiction and for finding help.