There are a variety of dangerous drugs in the world and the addictive levels of each vary wildly. Some are relatively non-addictive, while others cause addiction very quickly. Understanding the most addictive substances available can help you understand whether you or someone you love is at high risk for addiction. While drug use of any kind is typically dangerous and potentially addicting, these substances are the most problematic.
The Basis Of this ranking is based on information gleaned from two different studies. The first was published in 2007, from a team headed by a British psychiatrist, David Nutt. The idea was to create a system for assessing the addictive level of various types of drugs. Three different aspects were measured, including physical dependence, psychological dependence, and pleasure generated by the drug.
The findings of this study were somewhat controversial because it was found that alcohol and nicotine, two legal and commonly accepted substances, were more addictive than ecstasy.
The controversy led to another study which was allegedly undertaken to confirm the truth of the previous hypothesis. This study has been reported to agree with Nutt’s findings.
Heroin is a substance that has a reputation for being incredibly addictive. The reasons for its addictive nature have to do with how it works on the mind and the body. When heroin is introduced into the body, it binds with opioid receptors in the mind to stimulate pleasure by releasing dopamine in a way beyond what the body can produce on its own.
Unfortunately, once heroin is removed from the system, the body won’t produce dopamine for a period of time. This will cause a variety of symptoms, including depression, nausea, physical pain, and hallucinations. To avoid these symptoms, people may continue to use heroin.
Just slightly under heroin sits crack cocaine, a type of cocaine that is smoked, rather than snorted. Crack cocaine is chemically very similar to normal cocaine, but it takes effect more quickly and, due to its potent nature, creates a more intense high. This high decreases in about 10 minutes, which is quicker than powder cocaine’s 30 minutes. As a result, increasingly higher doses are often necessary
Those who use crack cocaine experience a high that creates feelings of high energy, happiness, and excitement. These feelings are more extreme than naturally-occurring instances, and as crack wears off, it causes increased depression, anger, and anxiety. Though the withdrawal effects of crack cocaine are short-lived, they are extreme, and fending them off requires often increasingly higher doses. As a result, nearly half a million people in the country are currently addicted to crack cocaine.
The finding that nicotine was more addictive than crystal meth and just as addictive as crack cocaine, was a major influence on Nutt being fired. However, studies have shown that nicotine stimulates the activity of a neurotransmitter in the brain, named nicotinic, and makes it necessary to ingest nicotine regularly.
As a result, withdrawal symptoms (such as anxiety, mood swings, and headaches) are common when people try to quit smoking or chewing tobacco. These symptoms are often very severe, and easy access to nicotine products makes it easier to relapse than with many other substances. As a result, it is estimated that one in every five deaths in the country was influenced by nicotine use.
The use of methadone in opiate withdrawal cases has been common for decades because it is a healthier and cleaner alternative. Like heroin, it is an opiate, albeit one that is less addictive. In a medical setting, methadone doses are carefully monitored and tapered to decrease withdrawal symptoms and to decrease the risk of developing an addiction. Unfortunately, addiction is still possible.
Crystal meth is an alternative form of methamphetamine that does something that its parent drug does not: teach your brain to crave it. When someone smokes crystal meth, they are stimulating the areas of the brain that produce dopamine and norepinephrine, the chemical that increases your feeling of alertness. As a result, those who use crystal meth often feel increased energy and a more “focused” state that helps them perform a task more efficiently.
Unfortunately, the brain can become reliant on these artificially increased doses of dopamine and norepinephrine. However, crystal meth also damages the neurons that produce these chemicals and makes them less effective at producing them. As a result, those who suffer from crystal meth addiction may have a permanently decreased ability to feel pleasure and focus.
Barbiturates are a depressant type of drug that was once widely prescribed as a treatment for anxiety and other concerns. However, benzodiazepine drugs have taken their place, due to their higher effectiveness. They are still sometimes used to treat epilepsy, however. Addiction to these substances is very possible, and withdrawal is often very similar to alcohol withdrawal.
As a result, cramps, seizures, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, and even hallucinations are all possible. In severe cases, heart problems, hypothermia, and even death can occur.
The legal status of alcohol helps increase its potential for addiction, but its impact on the mind and body already creates a potent addictive potential. When a person drinks alcohol, their body releases high levels of endorphins and dopamine, which makes them feel happier. It also decreases feelings of anxiety and self-control, which may make socialization easier. This is the reason that alcohol is considered a “social drug.”
Unfortunately, those who become addicted to alcohol become reliant on it to release endorphins, even as their body becomes physically reliant on it to operate. Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol are among the worst, and can actually cause death in severe cases. Sadly, this has led to an addiction rate of nearly 10 percent of the nation (nearly 18 million Americans).
Though less potent than its sister drug, cocaine remains dangerously addictive. It stimulates dopamine release and prevents the mind from reabsorbing it into the body. Though this symptom is only temporary, it will make a person crave cocaine at high levels.
The effects it causes (including extreme pleasure, energy, and happiness), its quick nature of use, the potency of its high, and the rapid development of tolerance make it’s potential for addiction severe. Though withdrawal symptoms are typically short-lived, psychological dependence is high with cocaine.
Amphetamines are a type of stimulant that can be used for a variety of medical purposes, such as increasing energy, treating sleep disorders, and helping with ADD and ADHD. Adderall, Dexedrine, and Desoxyn are all legal prescription forms of amphetamines. Methamphetamines are an illegal and non-medical variety that has become a major problem across the country. However, even legal amphetamines carry the possibility of addiction, though no more than methamphetamine.
Using amphetamines improperly can cause problems with speaking, a dry mouth, dizziness, constipation, insomnia, and heart problems. It can also cause addiction due to the ways that it impacts the production of dopamine and other endorphins. The increased levels of these chemicals it causes cannot be naturally stimulated, which leads to a reliance on amphetamines to achieve them again.
When a person suffers from anxiety, substances like benzodiazepines can help them achieve a sense of calm and stability. However, these substances are high on the list of addictive substances due to the way that the mind can become reliant on them. They cause rapid tolerance, making severe withdrawal symptoms likely. These symptoms include severe anxiety and panic attacks, though physical reactions, such as nausea, may also occur.
Improper use of benzodiazepines is uncommon, but it does occur—in these instances, they are usually used in conjunction with other drugs. Unfortunately, even proper use may cause addiction. However, unlike most of the other drugs on this list, benzodiazepines do serve a medically-necessary purpose. If use is halted, it is typically done in a controlled and tapered way, to decrease the potential for withdrawal symptoms.