Something is wrong: The crisis of modern addictions

Something is wrong with our society. We have access to unprecedented material wealth, and yet so many people are suffering in the United States.

We have the technology to end hunger and homelessness. We have the resources to provide an education and healthcare to everyone. But, we do not. Why?

Instead, we waste our wealth, time and resources on destructive activities. We spend trillions on illegal drugs. We spend five hours a day watching porn. We gamble away our earnings. We drink, shoot up or smoke in dark, unseen corners.

We can put aside the hardships of people living under a dictator, escaping a war or experiencing genocide in our current assessment. We can also omit the poor and underprivileged. Modernity has not been kind to a Syrian refugee or an individual in the slums on Haiti. Everyone agrees on that point.

Let us take a look instead at the people living the dream: the middle class of the United States, people living in peace, with money and access to education and healthcare. They are hurting, hurting badly!

Many statistics undermine the notion that the modern world, even for the most privileged, is an advancement over the past. The number of people on antidepressants and committing suicide in the Western world is alarming, but for this blog post, I want to focus only on statistics associated with addictions.

Most of us would be hard-pressed to find even one person not impacted by addiction, that is, personally impacted or impacted through a friend or family member. What follows is shocking and sad, but please take the time to review the statistics associated with addiction at the end of this commentary. They are wake-up calls, and should enable us to realize that we have been lied to for generations.

One myth of the Enlightenment is that humanity is on a constant course of improvement. Scholars argued that humans in the modern age will reach new heights as science replaces religion and reason replaces faith.

Auguste Comte, the father of Positivism, was one individual who promoted this worldview, and he argued that society develops in three stages: 1) theological 2) metaphysical 3) scientific, with the climax of society in the last stage. Karl Marx, a scientific socialist, predicted the advancement of society through periods based on economic principles in his theory of Historical Materialism. Charles Darwin explained the development of species by natural selection, and his followers applied his theory to humans, through Social Darwinism.

In sum, they all forecast a better society to come based on scientific inquiry.

The optimistic predictions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, however, fell flat in the twentieth century. Was humanity really better off after the World Wars, the atomic bomb, countless genocides, the Cold War, the bloody process of decolonization, and the rise of fascism and communism?

People have short historical memories, especially young people. They do not remember the horrors of Stalin or Pol Pot. They do not remember drills for atomic bombs. Some do not even remember the events of 9-11.

Moreover, a distorted view of history prevails. Even after all the evidence of the last century, people still assent to the creed that modern is always good and change is always desirable.

The modern world has seen major advancements in the realms of technology, medicine and science. No one could have predicted the amount of knowledge and dissemination of it through the Internet. The capabilities of the smartphone touch on the inconceivable. These and many others are advancements over previous iterations, but is the modern world a better place because of them?

Modernity is not a constant movement towards progress. Instead the modern worldview has a gaping hole right in the middle of it. There are no winners in a world without purpose and morality, only varying degrees of losers. The best piece of evidence that something is wrong with the modern world might be the sheer number of people suffering from additions.

Statistics on addiction

General Drug Use

  • According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 21.5 million American adults (aged 12 and older) battled a substance use disorder in 2014.
  • NSDUH reports that in 2014, approximately 5 percent of the American adolescent population suffered from a substance use disorder; this equates to 1.3 million teens, or 1 in every 12.
  • About one out of every six American young adults (between the ages of 18 and 25) or 16.3 percent, battled a substance use disorder in 2014, NSDUH.

Cocaine addition

Opioid addition

  • ASAM publishes that over 2 million Americans over the age of 11 struggled with an opioid pain reliever abuse disorder in 2014.

Tobacco addition

Alcohol addition

Compulsive gambling

Gaming addition

Compulsive shopping

Food addiction

Sex addiction

Pornography addiction

Internet addiction 


Hanael Bianchi

Hanael Bianchi

Hanael Bianchi is a history professor at a community college in Maryland. He earned his doctorate in modern British history from the Catholic University of America and his master’s degree in modern German history from the University of Connecticut. He is a proud father and husband and author of the Catholic Review's "Fertile Soil" blog.