Addiction and Consumerism

Addiction and Consumerism

Like a Good Neighbor, Statefarm is there, Arby’s, We Have the Meats, and “Just Do It; chances are you’ve heard these phrases at some point recently.  In fact, estimations claim the average person’s exposed to something like 5,000 advertisements a day.  There’s a number of reasons for this.  First, we live in a capitalistic consumerism society; meaning we have a private, for-profit, economy.  Second, advances in technology mean we are accessible to advertising virtually every waking moment.

Beyond Advertising

Webster’s dictionary defines consumerism as, “the theory that an increasing consumption of goods is economically desirable also : a preoccupation with and an inclination toward the buying of consumer goods”.  Consumerism is great for an economy, and on its face it doesn’t appear to be detrimental to the wellbeing of society.  The problem arises when the increasing consumption of goods becomes internalized. The problem arises when we equate consumption, the need for something outside of ourselves, to happiness. Above all, in today’s society, given our unprecedented exposure to advertising, we’re essentially brainwashed to consume.

What impacts your decision to buy Nikes over Adidas, go to McDonald’s instead of Wendy’s, or finance your mortgage through Quicken Loans rather than Wells Fargo?  Given our bombardment to thousands of advertisements every day how does advertising even work? The short answer is that advertisements play on our emotions.  Advertiser’s work to connect their product with emotions.  The couple in the Toyota Highlander commercial looks rugged, spontaneous, and adventurous.  You want to be more adventurous, so you buy a Highlander. Advertisements by design aim to get us to a “bliss point,” to spark a chemical response in our brains that pushes us to consume.

From the moment we’re born we are inundated with ideas that wearing the right jeans will make us attractive, working out at the right gym will make us fit, driving the right car will make us desirable, and drinking the right sports drink will make us run faster.  This was less a problem in the past, but given the advances in present technology it’s the reality of the day. If addiction is a byproduct of consumerism this would explain, in part, why we’ve seen a rise in drug abuse.

How Addiction Relates

It’s common for addiction to take root in a void someone feels in their soul.  While this might not always be the case, it was for me and it’s been a common theme expressed by guests in our podcasts.  Addicts operate under the flawed theory that the ever increasing consumption of substances is necessary to maintain one’s mental wellbeing. Does that sound vaguely familiar?  This is the premise behind why addiction could be (in part) considered a byproduct of consumerism. An addicts “drug of choice,” bares ironic similarities to brand loyalty. For instance, there are crack heads and heroin junkies, and they’re similarly different to Coke and Pepsi drinkers.  Aaron Sheridan, in an article available at, makes this comparison:

The value that we, as a late capitalist society, place on consumption of television shows, clothes, food or holidays can also apply to illicit substances. They build relationships between users, help them to forge identities and provide them with some form of regularity and daily goals in a way which is highly comparable to ways in which non-users create consumer identities, join subcultures or take part in hobbies. The only difference is, users are engaging in an illegal and unhealthy pattern of consumption.

Aaron Sheridan at

Final Thoughts

It seems as though consumption culture is a part of what fuels addiction.  The prevalence of advertising in a consumer driven society has programmed us to not connect. Not a surprise, in a society with friendships formed based on merit and identities shaped through our purchases.  They say the opposite of addiction is connection. The problem will remain as long as we measure our self-worth through the purchases we make. In other words, as long as groups remain disenfranchised and individuals lost without a sense of identity. Those poor souls will continue looking to satisfy their innate obligation to consume through destructive venues.


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