When considering addictive drugs, many people instantly think of things such as heroin and cocaine. In actual fact though, there are also plenty of addictive substances used by people across the globe that are actually legal, such as alcohol and nicotine.
While there are a number of quite complex and interrelated factors that determine whether someone will become addicted to a drug or not (like their social history, income level, and genetic makeup), the chemical design of addictive drugs makes some of them harder to stay away from than others. In fact, many of the most addictive substances known to man actually train the human brain to crave them — that is, the drugs cause changes in the functioning of the brain that are difficult to reverse.
Drug addiction has been a problem that humans have faced for hundreds and hundreds of years. However, it is only with recent advances in science and medicine that those studying the field have been able to understand why this is the case and document how exactly different drugs interact with the human body.
With millions of Americans around the country struggling with some sort of addiction, and more and more people booking into addiction treatment centers in a bid to get well, it’s important to have an understanding of how hard to kick different types of substance abuse habits are. Read on for the rundown on some of the most addictive drugs known to man.
It’s no surprise that heroin makes the list of highly addictive substances, since its addictiveness has been destroying lives for decades, even for first time users. Indeed, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there were 4.2 million U.S. resident aged 12 or older who had used heroin at least once as of 2011. Scarily, the Institute also estimates that a whopping 23 percent of people who use heroin end up becoming dependent on it.
Heroin is classified as an opiate, and as such affects opioid receptors throughout the body. This means that the effects of the drug mimic endorphins, and thereby create a feeling of pleasure while also reducing pain levels — a heady combination.
Heroin is so addictive in part due to the fact that the parts of the brain that are involved in reward processing and learning are chock full of opioid receptors. When heroin is injected into the body, users therefore teach their brain to make them crave it in the future. In addition, individuals who take heroin have to face horrible withdrawal systems when trying to get off the drug, making it an even more difficult habit to shake.
Another drug that’s been around for a long time, and that is also highly addictive, is cocaine. The stimulant — very much the popular “designer drug” of the 70s and 80s — is so dangerous due to the way it affects the re-absorption of dopamine in the brain’s reward regions. Basically, cocaine keeps a steady stream of dopamine in the brain during the time that the user is high, fooling the brain into thinking no more needs to be produced. As a result, the vitally important dopamine receptors are shut down. The problem with this is that as soon as the person starts suffering from withdrawal, the brain begins to urgently crave more dopamine, leading users to need another hit of cocaine to feel better.
The drug is also highly addictive due to the way in which it is taken, and the length of the high achieved from it. The quick method of snorting the powder, or the even faster way of smoking crack cocaine, means that the body and brain start to feel effects in anywhere between just ten to 30 minutes. The short but intense high — it generally lasts less than an hour — also increases the frequency of how often people need a new hit.
Nicotine might not cause the same rush as heroin or cocaine, but it’s still very addictive, as anyone who has ever tried to give it up will attest to. Like many illicit drugs, nicotine mimics a common neurotransmitter in the brain and, over time, reduces the number and sensitivity of the acetylcholine receptors that are produced.
This leads to nicotine becoming a constant necessity in a person’s body in order to restore and maintain normal brain function. It is no secret that cigarette use causes lung cancer. Cancer is a leading cause of death in the United States.
Don’t smoke kids.
Like nicotine, alcohol may be a legal drug but also still a very dangerous one. In fact, withdrawal from the substance can be so severe that it not only leads to mental and physical pain for users, but can even cause death for some people.
Part of the problem alcohol is so dangerous is because of the social acceptability connected to it. One must wonder that if alcohol were illegal, would we consider it to be as destructive as some of the other drugs on the list? It’s an interesting concept none the less.
Also, alcohol is related to a lot of in direct deaths. DUI’s and fatalities during drunk driving accidents are a regular occurrence on the evening news. Although we do not condone alcohol use, we always recommended that people use it and enjoy it with caution.