What are the Most Addictive Drugs?

What are the Most Addictive Drugs?

What are the Most Addictive Drugs? Drug dependence, also known as drug addiction, is a compulsive need to use drugs. Most health professionals regard it as a chronic disease with environmental, genetic and psychological causes

The factors that determine which drugs are the most addictive often include the following:

  • Impairment
  • Compulsive use
  • Continued use despite harm
  • Craving
  • Physical dependence
  • Tolerance

These Drugs are Hard to Stop Taking

Impairment is the degree to which the drug reduces the user’s physical and mental capabilities. Compulsive use is the drug’s ability to cause the user to take the drug despite the desire to stop. Healthcare professionals also measure a drug’s addictive potential by a user’s tendency to continue using the drug even though it causes harm.

The intensity of the craving for the drug is also an indication of its addictive nature. The severity of the withdrawal symptoms that occur when the user stops taking the drug is a measure of the physical dependence caused by the drug. Tolerance is the extent to which the user must take more of the drug to achieve the desired effect.

Addictive Potential

The addictive potential of drugs varies greatly, according to their chemical classification. The Lancet published the results of a study in 2007 that quantifies the addictive potential of drugs. The study rates each drug in three categories, including pleasure, psychological addiction and physical addiction. Drugs are rated in each of these categories on a scale of 0 to 3, with 0 being the lowest rating and 3 being the highest rating. The total score of the addictive drugs potential is the average of these three scores.

The following drugs are listed in descending order of their addictive potential:

  • Heroin
  • Cocaine
  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Barbiturates
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Amphetamine


Heroin is a synthetic opioid made from morphine, an opioid found in the opium poppy. It still has medical uses as a pain reliever, but heroin is more often used as a recreational drug. Heroin produces an intense sense of euphoria and relaxation in the user. These effects are similar to those of morphine, although heroin takes effect more quickly and the effects are more intense.
Heroin users develop a tolerance for the drug quickly, primarily due to this rapidity of onset. Short-term studies show that the tolerance of heroin and morphine are similar, and significantly greater than that of other opioids such as fentanyl, hydromorphone, meperidine and oxycodone. Heroin is especially susceptible to addiction, due to its strong euphoric effects.


Cocaine is a crystalline alkaloid derived from the leaves of the coca plant. It’s used as a topical anesthetic, but is primarily a recreational drug. The addictive nature of cocaine comes from the fact that it acts on the mesolimbic reward pathway by inhibiting the uptake of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin.

The euphoric effects of cocaine typically last less than an hour and are followed by an intense and immediate craving for more of this drug. The short duration of these effects often cause users to binge on cocaine by taking multiple doses over a prolonged period. This pattern of use often results in a rapid dependence on the drug. Habitual cocaine users often have a manic state similar to that found in amphetamine abusers and schizophrenics. Cocaine abusers often use other sedatives such as alcohol to relax after the prolonged use of cocaine.


Alcohol is the common name for ethanol, which is also known as drinking alcohol, ethyl alcohol and grain alcohol. It’s a psychoactive drug primarily used for recreational purposes, although it is also used as a fuel and a solvent. A dependence on alcohol typically begins with a low rate of consumption that gradually increases over a long period of time.

Young adults are especially likely to become dependent on alcohol. The increase in the physical dependence and tolerance of alcohol over time are the primary factors in an abuser’s inability to stop drinking. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that men who average more than four drinks per day and women who average more than three drinks per day may be at risk for alcohol dependence.


Tobacco is derived from the leaves of plants in the Nicotiana genus, commonly known as tobacco plants. It is most commonly consumed as a recreational drug, although it also has commercial use as a pesticide. Nicotine is the most significant psychoactive ingredient in tobacco, although it also contains many other harmful substances such as nitrosamines, arsenic and formaldehyde.
Nicotine is highly addictive, but it does not produce noticeable effects like other types of recreational drugs such as opiates and amphetamines. The primary reason for its high rate of addiction is that nicotine acts upon the mesolimbic pathway. Tobacco products are also more prone to abuse due to their greater social acceptance, especially in developing countries.


Barbiturates are a large class of drugs that depress activity in the central nervous system. They were originally used in medicine as sedatives to reduce anxiety and insomnia, although they have now been largely replaced by benzodiazepines. Barbiturates primarily act on the GABA receptor in the brain, making its pharmacological action different from that of alcohol although the effects are similar.

Barbiturates have a significant potential for both physical and psychological dependence. A dependence on barbiturates typically develops over time with regular use, beginning with a low level of use that gradually increases to achieve the desired effect. A psychological dependence on barbiturates typically develops more quickly than a physical dependence.


Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs characterized by a benzene ring fused to a diazepine ring. The first benzodiazepine to be developed was Librium in 1955, and Valium has been commercially available since 1963. Benzodiazepines are sedatives which have medical uses similar to those of barbiturates.

A psychological and physical dependence upon benzodiazepines can develop over a long period, even when taking therapeutic dosages. The primary reason for a psychological dependence is that an abuser continues taking benzodiazepines to avoid its severe withdrawal effects. A physical dependence on benzodiazepines results increases the activity of the glutamate system, where each causes users to become agitated when they stop taking the drug.


Amphetamine is the common name for alphamethyl-phenethylamine, which is a stimulant commonly as an appetite suppressant and to reduce drowsiness. Many commercial products contain amphetamine or another drug that metabolizes into amphetamine win swallowed. These brand names include Adderall, Dexedrine and ProCentra.

Many animal studies show that rodents often develop a reverse tolerance to the stimulating effects of amphetamine such that the animal becomes more sensitive to its effects. However, human studies showed no evidence of this sensitization. Amphetamine abusers quickly develop a tolerance for the drug, meaning that they rapidly increase their dosage and frequency of use in order to achieve the desired effect.

Methamphetamines are a class of drugs closely related to amphetamine, although their effects are more potent. These drugs can be highly addictive due to the intense rush and feeling of omnipotence they produce. Methamphetamine abusers often binge on the drug by taking it frequently over the course of several days. The high doses taken by these users can cause them to hallucinate and become paranoid. Long-term users of methamphetamines typically become depressed during withdrawal and may require hospitalization so they can be observed for suicidal behavior.

Treatment Works

These addictive drugs have a high relapse rate for users who become dependent upon them. The detoxification phase should therefore occur on an inpatient basis in a drug rehab facility to ensure the proper dosage for medically-assisted detoxification. Inpatient rehabilitation also allows healthcare professionals to monitor the patient’s withdrawal symptoms.

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