Each year, thousands of people die due to a drug overdose. Many more hundreds of thousands of people’s lives are torn apart due to drug addiction. Drug addiction is a progressive and chronic disorder, and many people who suffer from drug addiction are tortured for many years because of their addiction. Those that do manage to break free from drug addiction are often plagued by the seemingly never-ending relapse cycle.
Many people addicted to drugs are highly motivated to stop. However, giving up drugs is never easy, even when the desire to stop is present. Those affected by addiction are often encouraged by loved ones to seek out treatment and turn over a new leaf. This is often easier said than done. Drugs allow users to experience temporary feelings of pleasure. Drugs also allow people to self-medicate psychological traumas, however short this relief may be.
Drug addiction is widely considered to be a disease of the mind. Even though the wider medical community may deem addiction to be a disease, many lay people consider addiction to be a sort of moral failing. Addiction is heavily stigmatised and this stigma may prevent those affected by drug addiction from seeking out professional help. Even the word ‘addict’ is a label most of us would like to avoid given the stigma that’s attached to this label.
In this article, we discuss some of the world’s most addictive drugs. All of these drugs cause physical changes to the brain’s chemical makeup. Some of these drugs are physically and psychologically addictive, whilst others are merely psychologically addictive. All of these drugs may directly or indirectly lead to death. Whilst we do not mention every drug available today, we try to cover some of the more common addictive drugs widely available in the United Kingdom today.
Because alcohol is legal, many people erroneously believe that alcohol is not addictive, or that the risks of becoming addicted are minimal. In truth, alcohol is highly addictive, and the vast majority of us could go on to develop an addiction to alcohol under certain circumstances.
Alcohol is classed as a central nervous system depressant. When you consume alcohol, you temporarily feel relaxed and any feelings of anxiety will reduce. Neurotransmitters in the brain related to feelings of pleasure and the reduction of pain will also be stimulated. These neurotransmitters include endorphins and dopamine.
When you consume alcohol, pathways in the brain are formed to associate the consumption of alcohol with feelings of pleasure. It is these pathways that give rise to an addiction to alcohol.
Amphetamines are classed as stimulants because they stimulate the body’s central nervous system (CNS). When you consume amphetamines, you will experience a burst of energy. It is this positive ‘reward’ that makes amphetamines psychologically addictive. Amphetamines are not considered physically addictive.
When you consume amphetamines, dopamine is released in the brain. Dopamine powers up the brain’s pleasure centre. If you continuously consume amphetamines, dopamine release will lead to the imprint of a reward pathway associated with consuming amphetamines. It’s the formation of this reward pathway that gives rise to an addiction to amphetamines.
Benzodiazepines are known as depressants because they depress the body’s central nervous system. Examples of benzodiazepines include Xanax and Valium. Benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed to treat psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, alcohol withdrawal and insomnia. Those prescribed benzodiazepines for medical purposes must be aware of benzodiazepines’ addictive qualities.
For the avoidance of doubt, you must know that benzodiazepines are highly addictive. An addiction to benzodiazepines is physical and psychological in nature. Benzodiazepines are perhaps one of the hardest drugs to quit once an addiction has arisen. Because benzodiazepines have a short half-life, users often build up a tolerance to benzodiazepines.
Benzodiazepine addiction also causes rebound symptoms for conditions it was intended to treat. This could include insomnia, anxiety and other psychiatric disorders. If you have become addicted to benzodiazepines, it is likely you will require a complicated detox programme running over several months. Here, you will taper down your benzodiazepine usage. This helps avoid seizures/convulsions that are otherwise commonly experienced when the volume of benzodiazepines is cut too quickly.
Cocaine is classed as a stimulant because it stimulates the central nervous system. When cocaine is consumed, the body reacts by increasing your heart rate and blood pressure. These physical symptoms caused by cocaine use may cause a potentially fatal heart attack.
Like benzodiazepines, cocaine has a short half-life. Thus, cocaine’s effects will be extremely short-lived upon consumption. This short half-life means a tolerance to cocaine quickly develops. This causes cocaine users to consume even greater quantities of cocaine in order to experience the desired psychological effects.
When cocaine is consumed, dopamine in the brain is secreted at an alarmingly high rate. This cocaine-induced increase in dopamine is the central cause of cocaine’s addictiveness. However, cocaine also prevents dopamine reuptake. This means users feel depressed and anxious when cocaine’s desirable side effects begin to wear off. This is known as cocaine ‘crashing’.
5. Crack cocaine
Crack cocaine is formed when powdered cocaine is mixed with baking soda. Adding baking soda to cocaine reduces the drug’s purity. Unlike powdered cocaine, crack cocaine is not snorted. Instead, crack cocaine is smoked using a pipe. Smoking crack cocaine means the drug reaches the bloodstream far quicker compared to when powered cocaine is ingested intra-nasally. However, smoking crack cocaine also means the ‘high’ users experience is extremely short-lived.
When the desired high caused by crack cocaine begins to fade, the user will begin to feel a number of negative withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms include insomnia, depression, agitation and anxiety. These negative symptoms mean crack cocaine is psychologically addictive. Unlike other drugs mentioned here, crack cocaine is not physically addictive.
6. Crystal meth
Crystal meth is scientifically known as meta-amphetamine. The relationship between crystal meth and amphetamine is akin to the relationship between crack cocaine and cocaine. When crystal meth is consumed, the brain begins to release large quantities of dopamine and norepinephrine. Within a short period of time, the brain begins to build up a tolerance to crystal meth. When crystal meth is not consumed, addicted users will begin to experience powerful cravings for this drug. A number of withdrawal symptoms will also arise. These symptoms include memory loss, hallucinations, depression and psychosis.
Heroin is perhaps the most infamous drug contained in this list and a drug that’s highly associated with addiction. In fact, many authorities consider heroin to be the world’s most addictive drug. Around 1 in 4 people who experiment with heroin will go on to develop a heroin addiction.
When heroin is consumed, users report feeling a powerful sense of euphoria. Heroin eases pain and numbs the brain’s main pleasure centre, known as the nucleus acumens. Heroin consumption causes the brain’s dopamine sensors to overload and becomes exhausted. The means by which heroin is consumed also influences the level of dependency. Generally, those who inject heroin will experience a far greater level of dependency on the drug compared to others who choose to smoke heroin.
Methadone is an opiate. Methadone is highly synthesised in the laboratory. Methadone works by blocking the effects of heroin and other opiates. In the United Kingdom, methadone is favoured by policymakers in their efforts to ‘treat’ heroin addiction. This strategy is commonly termed ‘harm reduction’. However, methadone is believed to be more addictive than heroin. For instance, withdrawal symptoms experienced during a methadone detox are more potent and longer lasting than those experienced during a heroin detox.
Like alcohol, nicotine is also legally available throughout the United Kingdom. This is despite the fact nicotine kills millions of people each year across the World. In fact, the ill effects of nicotine are considered the leading preventable cause of disease.
An addiction to nicotine arises because nicotine mimics acetylcholine receptors in the brain. This results in a shift in the brain’s chemical constitution. It’s this shift in the brain’s chemical constitution that gives rise to nicotine addiction.
Ten years ago, it’s almost certain that OxyContin would not have appeared on this list. Skip forward a decade, and the name ‘OxyContin’ is on the tip of the tongue of most addiction experts. OxyContin is, in fact, the brand name for a drug known as oxycodone. Oxycodone is, like methadone, a synthetic opiate.
When OxyContin is consumed, users experience a euphoric high akin to that experienced when heroin is consumed. Like heroin, OxyContin also causes dopamine to be released via the nucleus acumens. Studies also prove that OxyContin is a gateway drug for street opiates such as heroin.
Getting help with your addiction
If you or a loved one suffer from an addiction to any of the drugs mentioned above, be sure to get in touch with Rehab Recovery today on 0800 088 66 86. Rehab Recovery offers a free and impartial helpline for people who are affected by drug addiction. We offer guidance on the availability and suitability of addiction treatments that are local to you.
Keith stopped using drugs and drinking alcohol more than 10 years ago. He now spends a lot of time writing and editing content for this website. His mission is to assist people who are also looking to embrace addiction recovery. Keith believes a key way to accomplish this goal is through his writing.