When determining which drugs are most addictive it is necessary to have a definition of addictive. Dependence is what most people think of when they consider addiction but they may also think of harm that is done by the drugs. Other factors such as withdrawal and intoxication also play a role in determining which drugs are the most addictive.
Surprisingly, the most addictive drug in the world is not illegal. Nicotine, the active ingredient in tobacco, turns 30 percent of casual users into addicts. This is a higher rate than any other drug including cocaine and heroin. The regular use of nicotine reduces the production of natural brain chemicals which then creates a situation where users must keep using in order to keep their brain functioning normally.
It is extremely difficult to quit using tobacco products and there are many health problems associated with long-term use. Although nicotine produces minimal intoxication, it creates a strong dependence and is extremely detrimental to the health of users. At least one in five deaths in the U.S. can be linked to smoking.
Widely found in coffee, sodas, chocolate and other food and drinks, caffeine is a legal stimulant that is one of the most widely used drugs in the world. Although it is relatively safe and the rare overdoses that do occur usually happen after taking concentrated caffeine pills, it does meet the criteria for an addictive substance. Users who regularly ingest caffeine have withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and nausea and feel sluggish as well.
Caffeine does not often make the list of most addictive drugs because a caffeine addiction is not usually a problem. However, nearly 30 percent of casual users of this drug become addicted which makes it one of the most addictive drugs known to man if not one of the most dangerous. Luckily, kicking a caffeine addiction usually only takes a few days and is not nearly as hard to do as kicking an addiction to certain other drugs, including legal ones.
Heroin is what many people think of when they consider dangerous drugs. As many as 25 percent of casual heroin users will become addicted to the drug and it is notoriously difficult to stop using. Methadone clinics exist even though methadone itself is an addictive and potentially dangerous substance because stopping heroin use cold turkey is impossible for most people.
People also often think of heroin when they think of addiction because it is a dangerous drug. Users regularly overdose on heroin and overdoses can be fatal. Heroin also produces nasty withdrawal symptoms which is one reason why users find it so difficult to quit.
4. Crack Cocaine
Cocaine as a drug can be used in several different ways and each of these ways has its own potential for addiction. While users can and do become addicted to cocaine when snorting it, crack cocaine has a much higher rate of addiction. Crack is smoked and enters the body much more quickly and all at once. This results in a higher rate of addiction.
Many people use alcohol as a recreational drug without negative effects. However, the consumption of alcohol triggers addiction in certain people and as many as 15 percent of recreational alcohol users will become addicted. Alcohol addiction is potentially life-threatening since withdrawal from this drug can be extremely dangerous. Because of the accessible nature of alcohol, there are many more people in the world addicted to alcohol than to crack cocaine or heroin.
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Rich Parker is a substance abuse counselor. He recently contributed to the Substance Abuse Career Guide.