Addiction is a compulsive, substance-seeking behavior found in individuals who show signs of withdrawal when use is stopped. There has been an ongoing debate over which drugs are considered the most addictive.

According to a panel of experts, how addictive a substance is can actually be measured. To determine addictiveness, experts compare the effect of the drug on the human body as well as its effect on society. Although there are a number of different data points used, this type of research relies primarily on three indicators:

  • The drug’s street value
  • Level of pleasure reported when using the drug
  • Strength of withdrawal symptoms when use is stopped

The higher the street value, pleasure, and/or withdrawal symptoms of the drug, the more addictive that substance is. After examining the impact of numerous types of drugs, experts ranked the ones they found to be the most addictive. Let’s talk about the five most addictive drugs:


As a derivative of morphine, heroin is often considered the most addictive drug. Heroin is an illegal drug synthesized from the opium poppy. The rate at which users become addicted to heroin is extremely alarming. It is estimated that 25% of users become addicted after their very first use.

The number of heroin addicts has reached epidemic levels in certain areas of the country. Prescriptions of legal painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone have also been linked to heroin’s rising usage rates.

With an estimated 43 million people using opioid painkillers for reasons other than prescribed, heroin use is only expected to increase. Dependency stems from the way heroin changes how our brain interprets pain and pleasure. The drug increases the body’s sense of reward while suppressing all pain.


Almost immediately after using cocaine, the brain’s dopamine system is compromised. Dopamine triggers pleasure sensations in the brain, and cocaine prevents neurons from turning these dopamine signals off. Simply put, cocaine turns a pleasure switch on that doesn’t shut off until the drug has run its course. This euphoric, energetic high creates a strong desire to reuse cocaine after it wears off, resulting in binge use.

Cocaine is harvested from the cocoa plant indigenous to South America. Cocaine powder is most often snorted through the nose. Less common (but just as dangerous) is rubbing the powder on the thin membranes of the gums. In the late 1970’s, a cheaper form of cocaine was introduced. Known as crack or freebase cocaine, this form is less pure and much cheaper making it more accessible to lower income individuals.


The most common addiction in North America is nicotine. Found in tobacco products of all kinds, nicotine’s addictiveness has increased over the years. It is believed more than two-thirds of Americans who tried either cigarettes or chewing tobacco became dependent on the substance, as it is legal and readily available.

Nicotine is the active ingredient found in tobacco. Whether inhaled or absorbed through the gums, nicotine enters the bloodstream rapidly and affects the brain within seconds of consumption. Moods improve immediately, alertness increases, and appetites are suppressed shortly after using. These affects all add to the drugs addictive qualities.


Consumed in liquid form and often during social gathers, it can be difficult to think of alcohol as a drug. However, over 7 percent of U.S. adults have struggled with alcohol use at some point in their lives. The abuse stems from the body’s dependency on the alcohol after the initial feel-good effects have worn off.

Alcohol can create a very strong physical addiction, as well as an emotional one. Treating alcohol abuse requires specialized services that heal both the body and the mind in order to fully overcome alcohol’s grasp. The impact of alcohol abuse is not only painful, but deadly: it causes more than 3 million deaths a year worldwide.


Known as ‘downers’, barbiturates are commonly used to treat anxiety and induce sleep. By interfering with the brain’s chemical signals, barbiturates have the ability to slow and even shut down parts of the brain.

When barbiturates are taken in low dosages, users feel sensations of euphoria. Relaxing both the mind and body can cause users into increasing the amount they consume in order to achieve a stronger high. The higher the dosage, the higher likelihood of shutting down important functions controlled by the brain, such as breathing.

Seeking Treatment for Addiction

Every drug can be dangerous. Although the symptoms of each drug differ, often they will share common side effects including:

  • Changes in appearance
  • Problems at school or work
  • Unusual or secretive behavior
  • Loss of interest in friends and family

Receiving addiction treatment remains the most effective way to achieve sobriety. If you or someone you know requires help, please contact Scottsdale Recovery Center® today.


Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Scottsdale Recovery Center® holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2009. Call 602-346-9142.