As mightily as we struggle, our main psychological and emotional bugaboos - from addiction to childhood obesity - continue to rise. Here's why.

The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, October 7, 2009. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at

Answers to Five (well, 3.5) Unsolvable Mental Health Questions

I read a puzzling fact about seniors (I am 63). Despite middle-aged people being highly concerned about staying young, eating right, exercising, et al., a Times article noted that seniors today "are more impaired and suffer higher rates of dementia than their peers a couple of decades ago."

1. Why are dementia/Alzheimer rates rising?

Partly because we don't drink enough alcohol.

Although we have searched for answers to its causes, have presented a myriad of treatments for, and have organized public schools to handle children who suffer from it, autism rates continue to rise, and are now placed at 1 in a 100 children.

2. Why are autism rates rising?

I'm afraid to speculate (but it's not simply because we are more aware).

Although we educate children about diets, encourage them to exercise and join sports teams, pass regulation after regulation concerning food and restaurants (e.g., calorie labeling), restrict foods in schools, have more treatment modalities and weight loss programs than ever, American kids keep getting fatter.

3. Why does childhood obesity continue to rise?

Because our culture is fattening.

Although we identify them at earlier and earlier ages and treat childhood and adolescent emotional problems with an ever-increasing cornucopia of medications, their rates never decline.

4. Why do youthful diagnoses of mental disorders continue to increase?

Because mental health and happiness can't be had in bottles.

Although we are drinking less as a society and taking somewhat fewer illicit drugs (including young people), more people label themselves as being dependent or addicted, both to substances and to other experiences.

5. Why does addiction continue to rise?

Because our beliefs about addiction are themselves addictogenic.