The World’s Top Five Addictive Substances

The World’s Top Five Addictive Substances

The question on the world’s top five addictive substances is a challenging one. The responses thereof are subject to your audience.

However, according to researchers, the addictiveness of a drug is based on a number of factors. Such factors include; the drug’s street value, the degree at which the substance stimulates the brain’s dopamine system, the adverse effects, the pleasure derived from the drug, how fast the user gets addicted and the rate of the resulting withdrawal symptoms.

The experts argue that there are other angles from which the addiction potential measured. Moreover, inquiring from a panel of experts is the most reliable method.


Together with his counterparts, in 2007, David Nutts engaged addiction experts on the same issue, and the following were his findings.


1.     Heroin

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Out of a possible score of 3, according to the researchers, heroin scored 3 hence ranking as the first addictive drug. As an opiate, heroin increases dopamine levels by 200% in experimental animals’ brains. Apart from being highly addictive, the drug is also deadly especially if the dose is five times the recommended one.

Does the addictiveness depend on whether heroin is smoked, snorted or injected?

Additionally, of all the five addictive drugs, heroin records the most significant damage to both the society and the users. By 2009, the illegal market for opiates rated at $68 billion globally.


2. Cocaine

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Cocaine has a direct impact on the users’ brain function of transmitting messages through the neurons. The drug interferes with the neurons’ ability to turn off dopamine signals leading to abnormal functioning.

When tested on animals, cocaine increased dopamine levels by at least three times. About 14-20 million people globally are cocaine users while cocaine’s market worth stood at $75 billion in 2009.




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The third most destructive substance is the crack cocaine while the powdered cocaine rates as the fifth in damaging potential. Sadly, 21% of people who try cocaine become dependent on it in a stage of their life.

The increased availability of both amphetamine and cocaine is raising global concerns.


3. Nicotine

Associated with heart disease example tobacco and e-cigs

Nicotine is the principal substance behind tobacco addiction. When smoking, the lungs absorb the nicotine taking it further to the brain. Nutt and his colleagues ranked nicotine or tobacco as the top third addictive drug.

An estimated two-thirds of all Americans who have tried smoking end up becoming nicotine-dependent. However, in 2002, WHO estimated the world’s total smokers to be more than 1 billion. Also, 8million people would die annually from nicotine by 2030.

Though test animals will keep off smoking, the rats press a button for nicotine delivery into their bloodstream. The direct dopamine levels responsible for the brain’s reward system increases by 25-40 %.

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4. Barbiturates (“downers”)

Originally, Barbiturates also called nembies, blue bullets, pink ladies, barbs or gorillas was used to manage anxiety and sleep induction. The drug affects the chemical signalling of the brain hence shutting down parts of the brain

The low dosage of downers which is the fourth most addictive drug causes euphoria while high intake can stop breathing. Abuse of Barbiturates has reduced over time since it’s hardly available. Therefore, the more available drugs are easily abused compared to those that are hard-to-get



5. Alcohol

Alcohol intake is legal in both the UK and the US. However out of the researcher’ possible score of 3, alcohol ranks at 1.9.

The effects of alcohol on the brain cannot go unnoticed. In a laboratory test on animals, the drug caused a rise in dopamine levels in the animals’ brain reward mechanism by 40-360%. The dopamine levels increased with the animals’ intake.

A global study states that even the least levels of alcohol intake are detrimental to your overall health.

22% of alcohol users become dependent on the substance during their life. According to WHO, about 2 billion people consumed alcohol worldwide in 2002. Additionally, in 2012, there were 3 million deaths which linked to drinking alcohol.

Experts warn that alcohol records the most adverse effects compared to the other drugs.