What Are The Most Addictive Substances?

tape with danger sign.

Addiction is defined as obsessive substance-seeking behavior, a growing tolerance to addictive drugs or alcohol, and the emergence of withdrawal symptoms when consumption is discontinued. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, around 22.7 million Americans (8.6 percent) have a substance addiction.

The statistics force us to take a more in-depth look into which substances are more addictive than others and why. Experts have created a list of the 5 of the most addictive substances or drugs out there that lead to addiction.

What Are the Most Addictive Substances?

Addicts of all kinds go through lots of emotional trauma and physical destruction in their life due to addictive substances and behaviors. However, there are five substance addictions that are especially hard to beat due to the sheer intensity of the level of addiction in their consumption. They are listed below, ranging from the comparatively least addictive drug to the most addictive.


Nicotine is a highly addictive substance found in cigarettes and tobacco products. Probably due to the ease of access and affordability, it is the most common source of addiction in America. More than two-thirds of the population who tried it, admit to being dependent at some point during their lifetime.

Barbiturates (“Downers”)

Downers are used to reduce anxiety and induce sleep. Admittedly, these addictive drugs can produce euphoria and relaxation at low doses. However, higher doses can result in an overdose due to suppressed breathing. Barbiturates drug names are numerous. Popular street names for barbiturates include blue bullets, gorillas, nembies, bars, and pink ladies.


Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug that can alter the brain structure and functioning if used repeatedly. It is classified as a Schedule II drug, which means that it has a high potential for abuse but can be prescribed medically by a doctor for legitimate uses, such as local anesthesia for some surgeries. People misuse two chemical forms of cocaine: the water-soluble hydrochloride salt (which is snorted through the nose) and the water-insoluble cocaine base (or freebase). Approximately 14-20 million people worldwide consume cocaine, resulting in a billion-dollar industry.


Alcohol is an intoxicant liquid produced by fermentation. Even though alcohol is a legalized beverage in most countries, it causes over 3 million deaths per year. Addiction to alcoholic drinks such as beer, wine, and liquor can have adverse and irreparable effects on the body and mind.


Heroin is an opioid drug made from morphine, a natural substance taken from the seeds of poppy plants. It is the most addictive drug on the planet, with one in four individuals who try it become addicted. An alarming fact is that overdosing by just five times the amount needed for a high, can cause death.

Why Are They So Addictive?

Consuming nicotine leads to the release of the chemical dopamine, which stimulates or “teaches” the brain to repeat the same behavior over and over again. This is known as reinforcement. The brain gets a dopamine “hit” every time a person takes a puff on a cigarette or inhales vapor from an e-cigarette.

Barbiturates are commonly taken to create feelings of relaxation and euphoria as they depress the central nervous system and reduce the heart rate and blood pressure.

When people consume cocaine, excessive amounts of the chemical hormone Dopamine is released, which produces feelings of pleasure and happiness. Cocaine alters the brain’s reward pathways by preventing neurons from turning the “feel good” signal off.

Drinking alcohol causes the release of feel-good opioids known as endorphins in two key brain regions associated with reward processing. It also increases the level of dopamine in the brain’s reward system by as much as 360 percent.

Heroin is a highly addictive drug because once consumed by a person, the drug enters the bloodstream and goes straight to the brain. Then it alters the motivation and pleasure dynamics in the brain into thinking that heroin is desirable. Heroin puts people in a state of elation where they feel relaxed and happy, and then they keep on wanting to repeat that experience.

How Not to Become Addicted to Them?

Avoid usage. In order to avoid substance addictions, one must avoid excessive, if any, consumption of these drugs. If you have been prescribed any of the above medicines medically, you must inform your doctor if you feel cravings to consume your medication more than the suggested dose. This way, they will help to manage your dosage or change your medicine to avoid drug dependence or addiction. In the case of alcohol, make sure to set limits on yourself and evade peer pressure.

Seek Medical Help. Addiction treatment is the most effective and safest way to overcome an addiction and achieve sustained sobriety through residential facilities, inpatient outpatient programs, detox programs, support group therapy, etc.