Addiction is a persevering thing. Of course, perseverance is the central part of the package for those in the grips of addiction. Except now, rather than a positive and hopeful term, the context suddenly becomes dismal and foreboding. The perseverance of addiction has ruined bodies, alienated friends, and destroyed marriages.
Addiction has taken away children of parents and parents of children. It is impossibly easy to start and impossibly hard to quit. It can be as pedestrian as a cup of coffee in the morning, or as hedonistic as a line of coke at night. It can be as foreign as opium or as domestic as beer. Glorified like exercise, shamed like sex. As safe as gaming, as risky as gambling.
Addiction has become one of the biggest problems in modern society from a physical and psychological standpoint. Thousands of lives each year are lost to addiction and 20 million people have some form of substance abuse disorder in the United States alone. The question is, how will this killer affect our society going forward?
Addiction is defined as the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity. Addiction has become synonymous with toxicity. The stereotypical drunk, abusive dad has become a staple of popular media. The term “wine mom” has become a staple of derogatory Instagram memes. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll was a term that emphasized the hedonism and horror of teenagers becoming addicts, whether true or not. D.A.R.E was a project that was created for the purposes of deterring juvenile drug addiction but ultimately failed horribly.
People are now beginning to realize that addiction is much more complicated and puzzling than previously thought. Before, it was always about the kids taking drugs from the “troublemaker” crew at school and getting involved in a slippery slope of bad acts until they ended up in jail or on the streets.
Now, it’s become more about the subtle things. Fentanyl lacing (relatively) harmless drugs like weed and molly causing tens of thousands of overdoses. Everclear is being put into jungle juice at parties rather than the standard vodka, which results in further overdoses. Adderall, a drug prescribed to teenagers with ADHD, has now become a massive problem in high school and college campuses. Countless people have already overdosed on this widely available drug.
Superhero movies fuel the addiction to being “shredded” out of proportion, influencing young males to turn to steroids. Intermittent fasting encourages girls as young as twelve to eat far less than they should as part of the addiction to being thin, to being accepted by peers. An epidemic of diminished testosterone makes sons feel inferior to their fathers and grandfathers, fueling the impulse to “become a man” at dangerous costs. This in turn sparks hyper-masculine content on radicalized platforms.
Another disturbing element of modern addiction is how fast new addictions are being developed as the result of niche apps. Apps that are on billions of phones will transform not only the concept of addiction, but the concept of community itself. Need to vent and/or criticize? Twitter. Need validation for your diet? Instagram. Wanna ride? Uber. Wanna sext? Snapchat. Wanna have sex? Tinder. Want to get rich? Robinhood. Want to get rich before everyone else? Coinbase. You get the picture.
These common apps will completely re-write what it means to be an addict in the modern world. We are wired, as a species, to find easier ways to do things. The wheel came from the part of the human mind that realized there’s a better way to move things than to carry them. We invented agriculture because we wanted a more convenient way of eating. We invented guns because we got tired of all the pesky work that came with bows. Now, our natural affinity for simplicity has evolved and become symbiotic with the rise of the digital era.
We have invented faster ways of doing so many things that once took far more effort. To many, this might be considered a good thing. After all, many incredible and helpful things have occurred with the help of human technology, such as the curing of many fatal illnesses like smallpox. Yet the way in which technology is manifesting in today’s world are clearly fostering a sense of never-having-enough. A sense of being just-ever-slightly behind. A sense of being left out. FOMO, or the fear of missing out, is a major psychosocial fallout of modern technology. FOMO makes you feel archaic and stupid for not taking the “new” and “easier” path toward everything. Sadly, this phenomenon will likely get stronger as time progresses.
What about the major addictions that haven’t begun to permeate mainstream society yet?
For example, VR content is rapidly expanding. VR is worth less than 5 billion at the moment but it is expected to rise to over 12.9 billion in 2024. If this rate continues, it will soon be a mega-industry that will consume day-to-day life. Consoles like the Oculus Rift and Quest have become commonplace amongst the gaming community, but it’s also considered gateways to things like virtual fitness, virtual shopping, and even virtual healthcare. We will likely see all of our favorite addictions magnify tenfold, but in a whole new frightening medium.
VR will also be used for virtual sex which will undoubtedly cause more young people to become addicted to its high-reward/instant access mechanism. It’s far easier to hook up with someone if there are no potential consequences like STDs. VR will also cause a massive increase in physical symptoms ranging from motion sickness to seizures. We could see a disturbing new trend of VR overdoses that result in status epilepticus, a rare and occasionally deadly form of seizure. Realistically, this new addiction to VR is likely already present amongst many people, especially those in their teens and 20s. Those already susceptible to addiction now face a potent new threat in the growing VR metaverse.
Lastly, I want to shed light on something that has eluded this entire article: my own addictions. I would not be writing this if I did not have some personal experience with addiction myself. From the time I was in middle-school, I have struggled with multiple addictions, many of which have gotten me in trouble, made me feel worthless, and alienated people. Addictions ranging from caffeine, to YouTube fitness, to other things I don’t want to describe. I don’t have an answer for any of these addictions I have mentioned. But I do know that in order to combat this, we need to persevere in the right way.
We must know the difference between toxic perseverance that actually sustains addictions and the kind of perseverance that comes from discipline, willpower, and communal support. True perseverance, though much harder to integrate into your life than its toxic counterpart, is the only thing that will produce real rewards. May we have the strength and wisdom to know the difference and continue moving forward…