The 5 Most Addictive Drugs And Their Effects

June 1, 2020 , Agape Treatment

man smoking a cigaretteThe most addictive drugs all have one quality in common: they provide pleasurable effects to the brain. This activates the reward center and keeps the user wanting more. Unfortunately, drug ddiction is quickly becoming one of the worst problems in the United States, leading to countless deaths every year.[1] Knowing which drugs are the most addictive and what causes them to be so alluring is a useful tool in the battle against addiction.

While this list includes some of the most dangerous drugs, there are also some seemingly innocuous ones on the list as well. Several factors are involved in determining what makes these drugs so addictive including the effects on the brain, effects on the body, and how readily available it is to users. However, all of these drugs are highly addictive and can lead to dependency.


Heroin is a powerful opiate that blocks opiate pain receptors throughout the body and is the leading culprit of drug overdose deaths in the United States. While it is illegal, it is found in abundance on the streets and easy to purchase. Still, many people initially become addicted to opiates by taking medications such as Percocet or Vicodin, which are prescribed by their doctor. Opiates are highly regulated in the medical system and doctors will not continue to prescribe them after a certain point, but many people suffering from chronic pain find that opiates are the only thing that will provide them relief. This is when people turn to heroin as an alternative.

One of the reasons that opiates are so addictive is because they quickly result in physical dependency, even if taken as prescribed. As someone takes these medications, their body gets used to having the drug and soon needs more to achieve the same results.

While being easy to acquire is just one of the reasons why heroin is so addictive, it is also far more powerful than other opiates. Along with its ability to block pain receptors, it also stimulates the brain to release feel-good hormones that stimulate the brain’s reward center and lead to drug cravings. Heroin users soon develop a tolerance and require higher doses of the drugs to get the euphoric and pain-blocking effects they are seeking. All of these factors inevitably lead users to develop a heroin addiction.


The next substance on the list of most addictive drugs is alcohol. Alcohol is legal, which is one of the reasons abuse rates are so high in the United States. It is cheap and can be bought at many places including grocery stores and gas stations. It is also considered socially acceptable to drink alcohol and for some age groups such as college students, getting drunk is viewed as a right of passage.[3]

Alcohol lowers inhibitions and helps people to relax. It also releases dopamine in the brain, which increases feelings of happiness and pleasure. This makes people want to drink more and over time, they develop a tolerance. As someone increases the amount of alcohol they consume, their risk of dependency and withdrawal also increases. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are extremely dangerous, so nobody should ever attempt to quit cold turkey. Some symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Headaches
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures [4]

The combination of being easy to get, socially acceptable, and eliciting pleasurable feelings is what lands alcohol on the list of one of the most addictive drugs.


Cocaine is a powerful stimulant and a common party drug that provides increased energy and euphoric feelings – making it a very desirable drug to some people. It stimulates the brain’s reward system by releasing high levels of dopamine, which then encourages regular use. Cocaine is legal for in-hospital medical use but is never given as a prescription.[5] However, it is still commonly found at parties and in night clubs across the United States.

Over time, cocaine users start taking higher amounts of the drug. Increasing the dosage of cocaine also increases the risk of overdose and leads to psychosis, stroke, cardiac arrest, and heart failure in serious cases.[6] This makes cocaine highly dangerous in addition to being highly addictive.

Crystal Meth

Crystal meth or methamphetamine is a stimulant similar to cocaine. Meth is commonly made in home laboratories making is a very common street drug. The effects of meth occur rapidly, but also fade quickly leading people to repeatedly binge on this drug and stay awake for hours or days on end.[7] Similar to cocaine, meth also increases dopamine in the central nervous system, which produces euphoric feelings and increased energy.

The long term effects of meth abuse are devastating for those suffering from meth addiction. Some of these include:

  • Severe dental problems aka “meth mouth”
  • Heart disease
  • Drastic weight loss
  • Psychosis
  • Brain damage

In serious cases, these long term effects remain permanent.


It may seem surprising that nicotine made the list of most addictive drugs as many people don’t consider nicotine to be a drug, but this is an entirely false notion. Nicotine is traditionally ingested by smoking cigars or cigarettes or through chewing tobacco. Now, with the increasing popularity of vaping, it is becoming more of a problem than ever before – especially concerning teenagers and young adults.

Nicotine use releases endorphins, leading to feelings of pleasure.[8] The release of endorphins encourages repeated use of the substance and, over time, leads to addiction. Nicotine is legal making it more appealing than other drugs. However, regular use leads to serious health complications including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer

All of the drugs included in this list often result in addiction and have devastating consequences on someone’s life.

If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction it is important to seek professional help. Agape Treatment Center is fully equipped to handle all drug and alcohol addictions as well as co-occurring disorders. Our staff is here to help you start your recovery today.