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The most addictive substances that are eating up America

The most addictive substances that are eating up America

04-25 | CDAH Team

For a layman, an addiction is a mere act of dependency on a particular substance. However, for an expert, an addiction arises due to incessant and relentless abuse of a particular substance that gives way to certain physical, biological and psychological manifestations. To understand the features of an addictive substance, doctors and scientists gauge the formidable impact of a substance and the possible harm it may cause.

Though many factors are considered while classifying a substance as addictive, it is the complexity of the potency of addiction that helps researchers classify certain substances as destructive and dangerous. The addictiveness of drugs depends on the extent of activation of the brain’s dopamine system by the chemical effects of drugs. Following is a list of substances or drugs believed to be the most addictive in accordance with the amount of damage they may cause and the number of deaths attributed to their use:


Tipped as the most addictive substance available, the number of deaths involving heroin rose six times from 2001 to 2014. With an addictive score of 2.5 out of 3, the drug synthesized from morphine can target the reward system of the brain by approximately 200 percent in experimental animals by flooding their circuit with dopamine.

According to a 2016 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), heroin overdose deaths had increased by an estimated 286 percent from 2002 to 2013. Its low price and easy availability make heroin one of the most sought after drugs for those looking for a high.

Most prescription opioid addicts take to heroin later because of which physicians describe prescription painkillers as a gateway to heroin use. Explaining the shift from prescription drugs to heroin, CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden said, “The chemical is essentially the same between prescription drugs and heroin. It’s cheaper and widely available – it’s driving this trend.”


Addictive but not illegal is what describes the presence of alcohol in the United States. Ranked as the second most addictive substance with an addictive score of 2.2 out of 3, chronic use of alcohol was responsible for the death of an estimated 30,700 Americans in 2014, according to the CDC.

While lawmakers and law enforcement officials in America are looking for ways to put a cap on the rising drug and opioid problem, the fact that more Americans have succumbed to alcohol-induced causes than to prescription painkillers and heroin combined in 2014 has only put the focus back on the risks associated with alcohol. As per the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the U.S. with millions being involved in binge drinking patterns giving way to alcohol abuse problems.


Cocaine, portrayed in movies as a drug preferred by the rich and successful, is a short-acting stimulant which only leads its abusers to consume more in a single session. The insidious effects of this drug which are wrongly perceived as glamorous lead to a huge number of deaths each year owing to its overdose.

As per the 2013 Drug Overdose Mortality Data, made public by the CDC in January 2015, cocaine overdose deaths increased by 12 percent from 2012 to 2013. The effect of this drug on the dopamine signals causes an abnormal increase in the reward system of the brain with users exhibiting symptoms of paranoia and losing touch with the real self.


Barbiturates, also referred to as sedatives, were initially used to decrease levels of anxiousness and induce sleep in those suffering from anxiety disorders. Popularly called blue bullets, gorillas, nembies, bars and pink ladies, these drugs lend a euphoric effect when consumed in small amounts, but it can suppress the breathing process if abused. The debilitating effects of the drug on brain and body classify it as a highly potential addictive drug with even a low dose causing coma or death.


Nicotine, the most active ingredient in tobacco, is one of the most addictive substances used in the U.S. and ranks high among the leading preventable causes of death and disability in the country. With an estimated 40 million adults in the U.S. hooked on cigarettes in any given year, nicotine is labeled as one of the most addictive substances on the planet.

According to the CDC, an estimated 16 million Americans are afflicted with a disease caused due to smoking in any given year. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says nicotine acts by increasing the levels of neurotransmitter dopamine, aggravating the reward system of the brain resulting in a condition similar to drug seeking behavior in addicts.

Road to recovery

Complete recovery from addiction to any particular substance takes a lot of time. But in certain cases, there are people who are dependent on more than one drug, thus, posing a great challenge to treatment facilities.

If you or your loved one is struggling with an addiction, you may contact the Colorado Drug Addiction Helpline for help. Our qualified representatives can recommend you the best recovery program at a reliable treatment facility. You can chat online with us or call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-218-7546 for more information.

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