Drug addiction is a disease that impacts the behavior and circuitry of the brain, resulting in the lack of ability to control drug use. Some drugs are less addictive than others, such as most prescription pain medications. There are other drugs, however, that are highly addictive and can lead to addiction more easily than others.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that there are roughly 22 million Americans that are addicted to alcohol or drugs. With 8.6% of the population actively coping with an addiction, it’s important to learn more about the substances that are more of a challenge to give up. Addiction is a widespread epidemic, and if you or a loved one are dealing with an addiction, there are people that want to help.

What Are The Most Addictive Substances In The World?

The most addictive substances are:

  • Alcohol
  • Cocaine/Crack
  • Heroin
  • Methamphetamines
  • Nicotine


With 1 in 12 adults experiencing alcohol dependence or addiction, alcohol is ranked as the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States. Once people reach their 21st birthdays, finally being old enough to purchase and consume alcohol, social gatherings are rarely sober events. In many parts of the country reaching the 21st birthday and subsequently engaging in your first legal binge drinking is a major rite of passage.

America has a high rate of alcoholism because everything is focused socially around drinking, from sporting events and the parties they spawn, to one-night concerts and week-long festivals, to the neighborhood bonfires and backyard barbecues. Because alcohol is inexpensive and easy to access, it’s no wonder there’s such a high rate of alcohol abuse.

Alcohol is an incredibly potent depressant that slows down the central nervous system. Dopamine levels are also drastically increased, enhancing the users’ mood for a short time. Once the depressant effects begin to kick in, the nerve firings slow down, resulting in lowered heart rate, blood pressure, coordination, motor skills, and cognition. There is also a rebound effect if the individual continues drinking, which causes a drastic change in mood from the early dopamine-fueled happiness.

The influence of alcohol absolutely impacts the way people socialize. Otherwise shy and quiet people find themselves feeling more outgoing and adventurous, which results in them having an easier time engaging in conversations. On the other hand, this same reduction in inhibitions can also lead to individuals engaging in dangerous and risky behaviors as a result of having lowered inhibitions.


Derived from the coca plant, cocaine is an illicit drug that has been around for hundreds of years as a recreational drug. It was originally consumed as chewed raw leaves, but eventually, industrialization created the potent concentrated stimulant known today. Cocaine is usually consumed in either rock form called crack cocaine, or white powder form often called coke. 

While highly addictive, cocaine does have limited medical value, which is why it is classified as a Schedule II controlled substance. This is largely a relic from the early 20th century, and having a legitimate prescription for cocaine HCL these days is unheard of. 

The effects of cocaine kick in fairly quickly; how fast exactly depends on the method of ingestion. Snorting coke gives the individual their high in less than 5 minutes, while smoking crack results in a nearly immediate effect. 

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Overall, the high doesn’t last very long, an hour at the most. Cocaine floods the brain with dopamine, resulting in an intense high where the individual is much more alert, energetic, and euphoric before they crash. This is one of the many reasons that cocaine is able to create such an incredibly strong chemical dependency in the body of the user.

Over time, the brain is unable to produce adequate levels of dopamine, which means the amount of crack or cocaine it took to get high previously might only be enough to make you “normal”. This tolerance can be fatal because people start taking more and more of the drug to get high and may unintentionally overdose.

Crack is made from cocaine and is almost identical to cocaine on a chemical level. According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, there were about a million people addicted to cocaine and/or crack in 2019. 


Opioids are the most widely abused depressant in the United States behind alcohol, and heroin is the most abused opioid. It is also the most addictive drug around, with 25% of people who try heroin becoming addicted to it. It is the fastest acting out of all opioids and gives an intense high, with feelings of euphoria and relaxation that are so dangerously powerful, that users are known for trying to “recapture” their first time being high on heroin, causing many of them to overdose.

In addition to being highly addictive, heroin is also extremely dangerous to just about every system in the body. One of the side effects of heroin is sedation, and it is not uncommon for people to nod off while high on heroin. When doses are high enough, this sedation could lead to severe respiratory depression, coma, or even death. Heroin is also frequently cut with the more powerful fentanyl, making overdose situations even more common. 

As of 2014, there were nearly 600,000 Americans as young as 11 years old that have been classified as having a heroin use disorder. Overdoses are much more common when a recovering addict relapses, as their tolerance has reduced. Amounts that were manageable previously could be a fatal amount, even if they were clean for just a few days.


Meth abuse affects more people than people realize. According to the NSDUH, there are more than 500,000 Americans older than 11 who are battling meth addiction. This powerful stimulant is found in either crystal or powder form and is either snorted, smoked, or injected in order to feel the intense high.

While there are legitimate uses for some versions of these drugs, they are frequently limited in function and application. However, one of the most common prescriptions for drugs in this class is for those living with attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADD/ADHD. This means that the potential for abuse is in the medicine cabinets of tens of millions of Americans.

In smaller doses, meth can give the user energy, increase focus, increase pleasure and excitability, suppress the appetite, and decrease the need for sleep. When taken in larger amounts, those that are high on meth can experience psychotic side effects. They may also become violent or aggressive.

Meth use, over time, can alter the brain. Areas responsible for memory, learning, and emotional regulations can become damaged. Dopamine regulation can also occur. Because the dopamine levels can become extremely low, drug cravings, severe depression, and suicidal ideations are common. In many cases, meth detox and recovery can restore the damaged areas of the brain, but in some cases of extreme use or long-term addiction, the potential for some permanent damage is high.


Nicotine is one of the most commonly used substances in the United States. More than 32 million Americans older than 12 are daily smokers. The effects of nicotine kick in quickly, within just 10 seconds and lasting a few hours. Because nicotine is legal, it is likely to remain highly abused.

Regular smoking can quickly lead to nicotine dependence. Not only is this substance highly addictive, but it is also really hard to quit without assistance. The withdrawals are extremely uncomfortable. Irritability, anxiety, depression, increased appetite, and trouble concentrating are just a few withdrawal symptoms that are experienced when someone quits nicotine cold turkey.

Signs You Have An Addiction to One of The Most Addictive Substances

The unfortunate truth is, trying something new can quickly lead to an addiction. One day you’re partying with friends, and the next you’re stealing money from a loved one to pay for your drugs.

Some of the signs that you may have a drug problem include:

  • Needing to take larger doses to get high due to having a tolerance to the drug
  • Limiting your use has become challenging
  • Your drug use has impacted your home, family, or job
  • You steal or borrow money to pay for your habit

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Treatment Options: How To Get Help For An Addiction to One of the Most Addictive Substances

There are so many substances out there that can potentially become a problem for us or someone we love. This means it is more important than ever to be vigilant for the signs of addiction and abuse, and if you recognize those signs in yourself or a loved one, be proactive. Make sure they know they are not alone.

By reaching out today you can talk to someone confidentially, and begin the creation of a personalized treatment plan. No matter what substance is being misused or abused, starting out on the path to recovery with experienced professional guidance can only improve the chances of a bright future.