These Are The 5 Most Addictive Substances On Earth

by Jeffrey Juergens ❘  

Which Drugs Have The Highest Rate Of Dependence?

Over the years, there has been much debate among researchers regarding which substances should be classified as the “most addictive”. An addiction is marked by compulsive substance-seeking behavior, a growing tolerance to the drug or alcohol and the presence of withdrawal symptoms when use is stopped.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, approximately 22.7 million Americans (8.6 percent) have an addiction to drugs or alcohol.

With such a significant percent of the population having an addiction, it’s important to take a deeper look into which substances are particularly difficult to overcome a dependence on.

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Measuring Addictiveness Of Various Substances

Due to the lack of a definitive ranking system for drug dependency, British drug and addiction psychiatrist David Nutt and his team of researchers set out to produce a conclusive list of the most addictive substances on the planet. Utilizing a panel of addiction experts, Nutt’s team created a list of the 5 substances with the highest potential to become habit-forming.

So, what kind of criteria is used to determine exactly how addictive a certain substance can be?

There were a few aspects researchers considered when rating each drug:


  • The extent to which the drug activates the brain’s dopamine system
  • How pleasurable people report the drug to be
  • The degree to which the drug causes withdrawal symptoms
  • How easily a person trying the drug will become hooked
  • How much physical and cognitive harm the drug causes
  • The street value of the drug

The researcher’s findings will be helpful during addiction treatment and relapse prevention, as it informs medical staff and counselors of added obstacles that lie ahead for individuals with addictions that are particularly hard to overcome. They could then spend additional time identifying triggers and planning for relapse prevention.

The 5 Most Addictive Substances On Earth

Addiction of any kind is likely to wreak havoc on an individual’s life, but there are various substances that have qualities that make them especially hard to beat.

5. Nicotine

Nicotine, the highly addictive substance found in tobacco products, is the most common addiction in America. More than two-thirds of Americans who tried cigarettes or chewing tobacco report being dependent at some point during their lifetime.

4. Barbiturates (“downers”)

These substances are typically used to treat anxiety and induce sleep. Popular street names for barbiturates include blue bullets, gorillas, nembies, bars and pink ladies. At low doses, these drugs can produce euphoria, but at higher doses it can result in overdose due to suppressed breathing.

3. Cocaine

An estimated 14-20 million people worldwide use cocaine, resulting in a billion-dollar industry. Cocaine reacts with the brain’s level of dopamine, preventing neurons from turning the “feel good” signal off. This results in abnormal activation of the brain’s reward pathways. An estimated 21 percent of people who try cocaine will become addicted at some point in their lifetime.

2. Alcohol

Addiction to beerwine or liquor can have a very negative effect on the body and mind that is often irreversible. Studies have shown that alcohol increases the level of dopamine in the brain’s reward system by as much as 360 percent. This legalized substance has a death rate of over 3 million per year.

1. Heroin

Heroin takes the number one spot as the most addictive substance on the planet. On Nutt’s addiction scale, it ranked a 2.5 out of a maximum score of 3. This potent opiate has an alarming rate of addiction, with one in four individuals who try heroin becoming addicted. What makes this drug particularly dangerous is that the dose that can cause death is only five times greater than the dose required for a high. Additionally, heroin has an extremely high risk of death from a relapse

Getting Help For An Addiction

The symptoms of addiction vary depending on the substance being abused, but there are various general warning signs that an addiction has taken root:

  • An overwhelming desire to use
  • Problems at school, work or at home
  • Changes in physical appearance
  • Secretive behavior or unexplained absences

Addiction treatment remains the most effective and safest way to overcome an addiction and achieve sustained sobriety — especially to any of the top 5 most addictive substances on the planet.

Check out The Five Most Commonly Abused Drugs On College Campuses for more information.

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