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What Types of Drugs Are Most Addictive?

Genes, social life and personal finances are all factors that determine an individual’s likelihood of falling into addiction. However, evidence shows that certain types of drugs are more addictive than others. People indulge in substance abuse for many different reasons that include experimentation, peer pressure and escape from environmental stressors. With chronic use, addiction often occurs. Current statistics suggest that approximately 23 million people in the United States suffer from an addiction to alcohol or drugs. More than 66 percent become dependent on both alcohol and another substance.

The Process of Addiction

Addiction manifests in the brain by altering brain chemistry and by creating cravings for a substance. As substance abuse progresses, addicts lose control over the ability to regulate use. A sure sign of dependency includes continuing use of the drug despite the fact that the habit causes negative consequences.

Whether humans consume comfort foods, engage in sexual activity or receive monetary rewards, the neurons in the brain release dopamine, which causes the euphoric feeling associated with satisfaction. Alcohol, nicotine, prescription medications and illegal drugs all produce the same effect. However, the amount of dopamine emitted can be up to 10 times greater with certain substances. The anticipation of dopamine release is one of the factors that lead to addiction. Another factor involves the speed at which the compound releases. Injecting a substance causes a faster and more intense high than either smoking or snorting it.

Dopamine also stimulates learning and memory centers of the brain. When dopamine is present, neurons also release the neurotransmitter glutamate, which associates events with reward. The brain then learns and records the association. When repeatedly using a drug of choice, liking the drug transforms into wanting to use it again. Eventually, the desire turns into a compulsion.

However, the excessive quantity of neurotransmitters causes the brain to adjust. In time, neurons release less dopamine and also reduce the number of dopamine receptors. The memory of getting high stimulates the need to recreate the experience. However now, substance abusers must increase the amount of the drug taken or increase the frequency of use in order to stimulate the euphoric effect.

These cravings endure long after someone stops using and is the major contributing factor to relapse. If a recovering addict ventures to a location where he once partied, sees paraphernalia associated with drug use or encounters a mutual substance abuser, the event acts as a triggering mechanism to initiate cravings. By acquiring specific coping skills and techniques, addicts learn to fight through the temptation.

How Addiction Impacts the User’s Life

The compulsion to continue obtaining and using a drug interferes with every aspect of an addict’s existence. Depending on the types of drugs an addict uses, the expense of the habit may become devastating. Personal financial responsibilities may fall by the wayside in preference to the addiction. Some resort to stealing from loved ones or turn to crime to support the habit.

Getting or staying high becomes more of a priority than spending time with loved ones, performing well in school or being productive at work. Relationships suffer under the stress. In time, an addict may become incapable of meeting the responsibilities needed to get an education or complete work duties, which leads to an increasing number of absences, dropping out of school, or losing or quitting a job. Some enter into a life of destitution and homelessness.

Studies suggest that more injuries, disabilities, illnesses and deaths occur secondary to substance abuse compared to other health conditions that are preventable. One in four fatalities involves using different types of drugs. Addicts may endure trauma while high on the job, in motor vehicle collisions, from domestic violence situations or while engaged in other types of dangerous behaviors. Whether trying to acquire drugs or from a lack of poor judgment, engaging in unprotected sexual encounters or sharing drug paraphernalia may lead to contracting sexually transmitted diseases, hepatitis or HIV.

The health problems that can develop with short- or long-term drug use are many. Dehydration and malnutrition caused by chronic stimulant use weakens the immune system, which leaves the individual with an increased risk of not being able to fight infection. Depending on the drug of choice, users may develop cardiovascular disorders ranging from abnormal heart rates or heart rhythms to damage caused by heart attacks or strokes. Injecting drugs damages vessels from repeated needle punctures, the insertion of caustic chemicals or from acquired infections. Impaired circulation can lead to gastrointestinal or organ damage. The kidneys and liver may suffer damage from continually having to metabolize and filter substances. Blood clots, dehydration, elevated body temperature or chemical imbalances may lead to seizure activity.

Though many are aware of the impact drugs have on their lives, they continue using. The loss of control causes guilt, hopelessness and lowered self-esteem. The alterations in brain chemistry combined with possible neuron or tissue damage from drugs can affect learning and memory ability. Many develop behavioral problems and mental health issues that include:

* Anxiety
* Depression
* Aggression
* Delusions
* Hallucinations
* Impaired judgment
* Compulsions and impulsiveness
* Paranoia

The Top 10 Drugs Considered Most Addictive

The factors that contribute to drug addiction can lead to compulsions involving many different types of drugs. However, certain drugs have chemical properties that make addiction more likely. The top 10 drugs considered most addictive are as follows:

1) Heroin was commonly used for medicinal purposes a mere century ago, until physicians encountered the addictive nature of the substance. Approximately 50 million people worldwide regularly use the drug, which attaches to the opioid receptors throughout the central nervous system and gastrointestinal tract. The drug mimics the body’s natural endorphins that interfere with pain signals while stimulating dopamine release. The substance also has fat solubility, which enables the drug to easily pass through the blood-brain barrier and attach to the numerous receptors. Of all those who try heroin, nearly one-fourth become addicted. The chemical alterations caused by heroin combined with the many receptors the drug affects contribute to the wide range of withdrawal symptoms addicts endure when trying to kick the habit.

2) Crack is the less expensive version of cocaine, which makes the substance more readily available and financially easier to obtain. The substance is therefore much more dangerous. Chemists make crack by diluting and cooking the drug until it forms a hard, crystallized product. Though similar to powdered cocaine, smoking crack enables users to get high faster and more intensely. However, the effect only lasts for approximately 10 minutes. Once the euphoria subsides, individuals often feel extreme fatigue and depression. Some become easily agitated or angry. To recreate the high or avoid experiencing the crash, users continually take the drug, which leads to addiction. In 2010, surveys indicated that approximately 500,000 people in the United States were regular crack users.

3) Nicotine isn’t illegal and doesn’t cause the euphoric feeling experienced by the many different drugs commonly abused. However, the substance makes the top 10 drugs list because of its addictive nature. The chemical compound mimics the neurotransmitter known as acetylcholine, which is a natural stimulant. As with other drugs, and with chronic use, the body develops tolerance and the user must continue abusing nicotine to prevent adverse effects. Approximately 50 million people in the United States are addicted to nicotine products. Smoking contributes to 20 percent of all deaths in the country.

4) Methadone is often used to alleviate withdrawal symptoms during detoxification. The drug also inhibits the euphoric effects created by heroin and other substances, which discourages relapse. However, with continued use, addicts demonstrate tolerance. Tolerance then becomes a sign an individual has become addicted to methadone.

5) Crystal meth mimics the neurotransmitters dopamine, glutamate and norepinephrine. The drug also encourages neurons to release more of each compound. However in time, the drug damages the neurons that release the three chemicals, which causes an abnormal decrease in neurotransmitter levels. When this occurs, users must initially take more of the substance to get high; but eventually, they must use the drug to feel normal again. The potent stimulating effects of the drug enable users to remain awake for extended periods of time while feeling alert. However, the detrimental effects include memory loss, mood swings, permanent central nervous system damage and accidental overdose.

6) Alcohol is legal and commonly consumed in a variety of settings. The substance’s effects on the brain produce relaxation and sedation, which makes socializing more comfortable. Short-term effects can lead to alcohol poisoning and injury secondary to poor impulse control or a lack of judgment. With chronic use or in high doses, alcohol causes cardiovascular and liver damage, the development of diabetes and cancer. Statistics estimate that nearly 18 million people in the United States suffer from alcohol addiction.

7) Cocaine prevents the body from reabsorbing dopamine, which prolongs the compound’s effects. However in time, as with other types of drugs, the body develops tolerance and addiction becomes a reality. Though the substance doesn’t damage neurons, the short-lived high, subsequent crash and eventual development of tolerance makes cocaine one of the top 10 drugs that are most addictive.

8) Amphetamines may be pure or a combination of dextroamphetamine salts. These formulations include the medications commonly prescribed to treat people diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Adderall, Dexedrine and Desoxyn all interact with the reward and pleasure centers of the brain, and cause rapid tolerance development and the need to continue use. Abruptly stopping the stimulants causes anxiety, depression and extreme fatigue. Naturally, avoiding these symptoms requires that individuals take more of the drugs.

9) Benzodiazepines increase the effectiveness of the neurotransmitter known as gamma-aminobutyric acid. GABA reduces chemical communication between neurons, which decreases anxiety and other adverse psychological symptoms. However, tolerance develops quickly, which leads to the user taking more than the prescribed amount of medication. When prescribed, the drugs aren’t meant for long-term use. Whether taking a legitimate prescription or desiring to stop an illegal habit, benzodiazepines must be reduced slowly to avoid horrendous withdrawal symptoms that some claim are worse than trying to kick heroin.

10) Gamma hydroxybutyrate, widely known as GHB, is one of many popular club drugs and acts as a central nervous system depressant while producing euphoria. With the substance’s similarity to alcohol, users often increase the dose of one or the other when tolerance occurs. This action increases the likelihood of addiction. Not unlike alcohol, stopping the substance also causes various unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that include anxiety, insomnia, dizziness, nausea and vomiting.

Addiction Programs for Overcoming Drug Use

Recovery from addiction first entails undergoing a thorough evaluation by a physician or therapist who determines the type and severity of the problem through physical and psychological examinations. The practitioner then makes treatment recommendations based on the overall findings.

Many addicts must undergo detoxification processes, which involve total abstinence of the substance of choice in order for the body to eliminate any remaining traces of the drug. The body also must relearn to function without the substance. The severity of withdrawal symptoms an addict experiences during this time are associated with the type of drug abused and the extent of the addiction. Different types of medical intervention are provided, but vary from one practitioner to the next. Following detox, individuals begin the process of breaking the psychological addiction.

Addiction recovery programs fall under two classifications: outpatient and inpatient programs. Outpatient programs allow mild-to-moderately addicted individuals to continue living normal lifestyles at home, work or school while requiring that they attend a designated number of counseling or therapy sessions during the day or evening. Inpatient or residential facilities require that addicts live at a rehabilitation center 24-hours a day under the supervision of an addiction team comprised of counselors, therapists, physicians and other personnel. Residents attend individual and group sessions in addition to participating in any of the therapeutic activities offered.

During counseling and therapy sessions, addicts learn more about themselves and the reasons behind their addictions. They also gain the skills needed to face and overcome temptation. Some may receive family therapy to heal fractured relationships. Others may need ongoing psychological support secondary to mental health diagnoses and concerns. After the completion of initial treatment, all must receive ongoing support and aftercare services via counselors, therapists, loved ones and community group meetings.

Thousands make the decision to win the fight against drug addiction by seeking treatment. While addiction ruins lives, treatment helps the healing process begin and puts lives back together. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction and needs more answers, contact the 844-806-6511 helpline.


Our articles are written by individuals who have seen addiction up close. They may have watched addiction take a toll on someone they loved or had their own battles with substances, and they write for us to spare others some of that pain and confusion. If you find these writings useful and would like to speak to someone who gets addiction, call us at (844) 826-1700.

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