Which Drugs are the Most Addictive?

Which drugs are the most addictive? This generally breaks down to five contenders:

  • Nicotine
  • Heroin
  • Crack cocaine
  • Methamphetamine
  • Alcohol

. Nicotine, the active ingredient in tobacco and vaping products, is a highly addictive substance, especially when inhaled. Within seconds of a puff from a cigarette or vape, nicotine hits the brain, causing a release of dopamine. Dopamine causes feelings of pleasure to flood the brain. Because it\’s also a stimulant, nicotine gives a burst of energy. These effects combine to create a powerful, reinforcing effect that keeps the user wanting more and more. This is why most people who begin to smoke or vape nicotine products become addicted. It\’s unusual to see a casual smoker. Most people who smoke are truly addicted to the nicotine in the products they use. That\’s why smoking is so hard to stop.


Heroin is also known as acetylmorphine. It\’s prepared from morphine and is actually just a form of morphine, although it\’s about twice its strength. What makes heroin so much more addictive is the way it hits the brain. Compared to morphine, heroin races across the blood-brain barrier and enters the brain full force. This causes the rush of pleasure so coveted by heroin users. This rush lasts between three to five minutes and then begins to fade as the heroin is converted by the body back into morphine once again. Heroin and other opioids cause changes in the brain. The brain adapts to the presence of the heroin and with continued use, cannot function normally without it. If the drug is suddenly stopped, highly unpleasant withdrawal symptoms begin and may persist for weeks until the brain balances itself once again. Even after recovery from withdrawal, powerful drug cravings may remain.

Crack Cocaine

Crack, so named because of the crackling noise it makes while being heated for smoking, is more addictive than its parent drug cocaine. Cocaine has been used for centuries by native peoples as a euphoriant and fatigue-fighter, but its use was limited to chewing the coca leaves. It wasn\’t until the mid-1800s that cocaine was isolated from the coca leaf. For the first time, it was available in pure form. It was included in patent medicines of the day and was freely available without a prescription. The popular soda drink Coca-Cola once contained cocaine. At the time, its addictive potential was not understood. Coca-Cola removed cocaine from its formulation shortly after the turn of the 20th century.

Powdered cocaine must be snorted or injected. It cannot be smoked. When an excess of powdered cocaine flooded the illicit drug market in the 1970s, sellers needed to find another use for their drug. That\’s how freebase cocaine, which can be smoked, came to be. Although powdered cocaine also travels quickly from the nose to the brain, the smoked crack is far faster and hits harder. It hijacks the brain\’s synapses, the communication portals between the brain cells and causes the pleasurable neurotransmitter dopamine to flood the brain. The effect is devastatingly pleasurable. However, it may last only minutes before fading away. The user wants more and more but never gets enough. It\’s a vicious circle of addiction that most people would need help to stop.


Probably even worse than crack cocaine is methamphetamine. Known by its street monikers of ice, Tina, glass and crystal meth, methamphetamine is a synthetic stimulant made with highly toxic chemicals like acetone and red phosphorus. The drug is always made in illegal labs where there may be no regard for consumer safety or quality control. Far more powerful than cocaine, methamphetamine also causes the release of the pleasure neurotransmitter dopamine but on a much stronger scale. It induces powerful feelings of euphoric energy that can persist for up to 12 hours on a single dose. Users may binge on the drug to the point of death from acute amphetamine intoxication.


This commonly abused substance doesn\’t cause addiction in everyone who uses it. Many people drink socially and responsibly with no problem. Others don\’t drink at all and have no desire to. However, in susceptible individuals, alcohol\’s effects on the brain do lead to addiction. Alcohol is linked with the release of both dopamine and endorphins, the brain\’s own natural opiates. This double whammy may keep an alcohol user coming back for more and more until the brain is dependent on alcohol just to function.

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