Addiction is a word that’s casually thrown around by many people to describe their love of chocolate, their need to keep up-to-date on Game of Thrones, or their passion for a sport. However, many Americans actually struggle with the darker side of behavioral addictions, and suffer from obsessions and lead them to lose jobs, self esteem, friends, loved ones, and more. These different types of addictions can take control of a person’s mind, not just their body, and can trigger, or be triggered by, a variety of mental illnesses and issues.

Whether you’re planning to get a degree in clinical mental health counseling, or simply want to help a family member or colleague deal with a problem, it’s important to have an understanding of the kinds of addictions prevalent in society. If you’re keen to learn more, read on for the different types of addictions faced by Americans in this day and age.

Tobacco, Drugs, and Alcohol

An alcoholic struggling with his addiction. Alcohol is one of the more common types of addictions impacting Americans today.

Alcohol is one of the more common types of addictions impacting Americans today.

Addictions to tobacco, illicit drugs, and alcohol tend to be the most prevalent, and most well-known, of the tough habits to kick. In fact, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in the United States the abuse of these three substances costs the country around $700 billion annually in health care expenses, crime-related issues, and reduced work-productivity levels.

Addictions to alcohol and illegal drugs (including things such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamines) are the most widespread, with alcohol actually being the most commonly used addictive substance in the country.

When it comes to tobacco use, while there are a number of chemicals found in the plant, the key ingredient that leads to addiction is nicotine. In addition, carbon monoxide, tar, nitrosamines and acetaldehyde, all of which are produced by smoking, also harm the body in myriad ways, including causing lung cancer and increasing the risk of heart disease. Addictions to tobacco lead to many preventable diseases, disabilities, and deaths occurring each year.


Gambling, while less common than other different types of addictions can have a similar impact on the person's life.

Gambling, while less common than other different types of addictions can have a similar impact on the person’s life.

Gambling addictions are also very common throughout regions such as North America, the United Kingdom and Australia. Gambling, whether on weekly lotteries, horse racing, bingo, slot machines, scratch cards or general sports betting, can affect people of all ages and backgrounds, as well as both men and women. While gambling is legal in certain places, and a reasonably socially-accepted pastime, it is also a particularly addictive one and can ruin relationships, finances, and lives.

The large rise in online gambling facilities through apps and websites has given people even more of an opportunity to get addicted, with compulsive gamblers able to put bets on without even having to leave their home or their workplace. Furthermore, the social interaction of online forums and communities found through the new technologies only work to reinforce addictive behavior.


An open bottle with pills spilling out. Addiction to prescription medications is a fast growing area of concern in the U.S.

Addiction to prescription medications is a fast growing area of concern in the U.S.

Even though addictions to illicit drugs tend to be the most spoken about in society, there are growing numbers of people around the United States, and all across the world, who are abusers of prescription medications. Substance abuse of pills prescribed by doctors, psychiatrists, and other specialists is on the rise, across all generations, and regularly stems from a simple initial prescription for pain relief, sedation, or some other medical assistance.

In the United States, some of the prescription drugs that are most commonly abused are Valium, Xanax, Ritalin, Adderall, morphine, and codeine.


Food is another substance that people can find themselves addicted to without even realizing it at first. Disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are often spoken about by the media and discussed by medical professionals, but there’s another food-related problem that needs to be on the radar: binge eating disorder.

Affecting around three percent of adults across the country, this disorder doesn’t phase into purging, as with bulimia, but still involves the same sorts of compulsive behaviors. People with a binge eating disorder over-eat regularly, and then feel guilty after each excessive amount of food is consumed (which often leads to another binge session, and continues the cycle).

The addiction is believed to be triggered by emotional problems or situations, like depression, abuse, or post-traumatic stress. There are also some new theories coming out, with scientists researching the possibility that chronic binging might start due to a biochemical dependency on sugar.


Sex addictions have received more press time since well-known names like Tiger Woods and Russell Brand admitted to having the problem, but this type of struggle is actually not yet classified as an “official” addiction. Having said that, the issue is very real and very debilitating.

Sex addicts tend to display similar symptoms to those facing other addictions, including a loss of control, disregard for risks and consequences of behavior, and a life that constantly revolves around getting the next “fix.”