The National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that 23.5 million Americans or nearly 1 in 10, are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Despite that, only about 11% of those addicted ever seek treatment. As a result, millions of people continue to remain dependent on drugs for years or even their entire lives, causing damage to their health, their finances, and their lives. While some people are more readily addicted to substances than others, some substances are more addictive. In 2007, a team of researchers headed by Professor David Nutt developed a scale measuring the potential misuse of drugs. While Professor Nutt and his team included substances such as alcohol and ketamine in their scale, they were able to successfully create a scale of least addictive to most-addictive drugs.
Why Are Some Drugs More Addictive Than Others?
In most cases, drug dependency is created by a few specific factors. Professor Nutt and his team ranked drugs based on:
- How the drug activates the dopamine system
- The severity of withdrawal symptoms and how quickly withdrawal symptoms develop
- The percentage of people who become ‘hooked’ when taking the drug for the first few times
- The cognitive changes caused by the drug
- The physical harm caused by the drug
- Pleasure reported by users
- Street value
These factors allow researchers to develop a good idea of which substances are addictive and which form dependencies faster. This allows us to create a picture of the most addictive drugs based on that data. However, it is important to note that many drugs react differently based on the person. A drug that is highly addictive to the majority of the population may be less addictive to you or a friend and vice versa. Most people can become addicted to almost anything, including food, and any drug is potentially very harmful to your long-term health and well-being.
Which Drugs are the Most Addictive?
Using the factors listed above, researchers were able to list the following drugs as the most addictive.
Nicotine – Most people know someone who smokes. Most of us don’t know that there are an estimated 40 million people who smoke in the USA. While some people quote nicotine as one of the most addictive (or the most addictive) drugs, it’s not quite there. However, it does make the top 5 list. Out of that 40 million, nearly 35 million express a desire to quit or try to quit on a yearly basis, but 85% fail. Between 30 and 40% of all casual nicotine users will become addicted quickly, leading to increased use. Nicotine is also one of the leading causes of preventable death, with over 6 million people suffering from a smoking related illness or disease. Smoking allows users to inhale nicotine into the nasal passages, where it takes just 10-30 seconds to hit the brain. While this high is low-level compared to other drugs like heroin, it’s highly addictive. Because the effects of nicotine fade quickly, many smokers are drawn to smoking more and more to keep up the high. Eventually, withdrawal symptoms can set in within just a few hours of smoking a final cigarette.
Barbiturates – Barbiturates were once one of the most popular drugs in the United States and are most often used as a mild sedative to induce sleep, decrease anxiety, or help users to relax. While prescription drugs, they are one of the most addictive and dangerous drugs available. Popular barbiturates include Amytal, Seconal, and Nembutal, which are popular for giving a euphoric rush, sedative and relaxing effect, and lowered inhibitions. While barbiturate use is declining, thanks to increasing awareness of their addictive potential, these drugs are most often prescribed to elderly patients who need them to sleep, and who quickly become addicted. Barbiturates work by increasing the ability of dopamine and serotonin to get to receptors in the brain by increasing the chloride ion channel opening at the GABBA receptor.
Cocaine – Cocaine and crack cocaine are two of the most popular drugs on the planet, famed for the 1990s craze that led to the rise of drug lords. However, cocaine is still popular today, and it is in the top 3 most addictive drugs. An estimated 14-20 million people use cocaine worldwide, and over 1.5 million cocaine dependent persons in the USA. While cocaine addiction affects a relatively small percentage of the population, it remains responsible for as much as 40% of all drug-related emergency room visits, at 550,000 out of 1.3 million per year. Cocaine is also highly addictive, reaching the brain within a few minutes when inhaled. Here, the drug prevents the brain from turning off dopamine production, creating an intense but short lived high. Like nicotine, cocaine’s euphoric effects wear off quickly, causing the user to go back for more, building tolerance and soon addiction. Cocaine also causes myriad health problems including inability to handle stress, blood vessel damage, cognitive impairment, anxiety, depression, psychosis, tooth decay, hypertension, and organ damage.
Amphetamines – Amphetamines including Methamphetamines or Meth is one of the most common street drugs, sold and used as a stimulant which causes euphoria as well as an aphrodisiac. Over 24.7 million people are addicted to these drugs, including various classes of amphetamines and crystal meth. The drug reaches the brain within a few minutes, causing a rush of adrenaline and dopamine to the system which does not stop for up to 12-34 hours. Methamphetamine is also dangerous, causing psychosis, memory loss, mood disturbances, dental problems, hair loss, memory loss, unpredictable behavior, nervousness, irregular heartbeat, and potential hypothermia through reduced thermal regulation.
Opiates – Heroin and Morphine are clinically the most addictive drugs, but in studies, addicts cannot distinguish a preference for one or the other. Each of these drugs are opiates, derived from the opium poppy, which take effect in 15-90 minutes depending on ingestion. It then slows the motor function, increasing dopamine levels in the brain, causing euphoria and relaxation. Heroin is currently one of the most popular drugs in the United States, with usage increasing over 500% since 2007. It is also one of the most dangerous drugs, with an overdose at just 5 times the minimum amount required for a high. Data shows that over 20 million people use opiates recreationally worldwide. At the same time, data shows that 91 people die each day from opiate overdoses, making opiates one of the most dangerous drugs. Most types of drugs are highly addictive or can be in the right setting, and any type of prolonged drug use is typically habit forming. The body and the brain quickly develop dependencies on chemicals, especially through regular use. In any case, if you experience withdrawal symptoms when stopping substance use, it is a sign of addiction and dependency. Anyone experiencing substance dependence can and should seek help. A rehabilitation facility will offer quiet, confidential support, backed by cognitive behavioral therapy, medical care to aid withdrawal, and other addiction treatment. Oceanfront Recovery is located in in Southern California in beautiful and sunny Laguna Beach. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, please contact one of our professional and compassionate team at 877-296-7477 to begin the journey of recovery today.