Why is the most addictive drug so addictive?
If you thought you knew what the most addictive drug is, think again. The list of drugs with an addictive potential may be long but the top few have been found to possess properties that stimulate the brain and change its structure. Moreover, addiction is more than just a state of mind, it’s a serious brain disease that changes the functionality of the brain.
Rarely do people start taking drugs with the intent of getting addicted, if ever. However, the power of these potent substances means with overuse and compulsive behaviour, they ‘hijack’ the brains reward system. This means someone struggles to achieve a content, pleasurable state of mind as they did before without the drug.
What does it mean to be addicted?
According to the medical definition of addiction, it requires an individual to meet 3 or more qualifying factors. The World Health Organisation have listed the following which can classify the underlying factors to being an addict:
- Tolerance develops: meaning an individual takes more of the substance over time to reach the same desired effects
- Withdrawal symptoms: when someone stops using the drug or drinking, they experience physical or emotional signs that their body is struggling to adjust. Common symptoms can be anything from anxiety and paranoia to nausea and depression. The emotional side can often be just as tricky if not more so than the physical.
- Lack of control over actions: the person would prefer not to drink or take more of the substance however they feel as though they have little control. One drink or one hit leads to another which leads to another. They will also have the will to want to stop but prove unsuccessful in their attempts.
- Negative impact on life: the addicted individual’s actions will have negative consequences on their personal life such as reduced self-esteem, poor well-being or a breaking down of relationships.
- Spending more time, energy and money than usual: a significant amount of resources is often invested in the life of an addicted person to acquire more of a substance. They will also become involved in secretive behavior and extensive planning to get their hands on the drug.
- Neglecting responsibilities: putting off social, work or family responsibilities will be common with someone addicted to substances.
What elements determine how addictive a substance can be?
- How effectively it activates the brains reward center (dopamine system)
- How pleasurable individuals perceive the substance to be
- The severity of withdrawal symptoms
- The price of the drug on the street
- The potential harm it causes
- How easy it is for someone to be addicted to it
The most addictive legal drug
Nicotine has long been known as a powerfully addictive substance for a long time and is the active ingredient in vapes, cigarettes and e-cigs. These can be found in several corner shops, supermarkets, gas stations and more and is often smoked several times a day.
Did you know? According to the US surgeon general, Nicotine has been given the same addictive rating as drugs like cocaine and heroin.
How does nicotine work?
As early as 1571 if not before, nicotine was known to be highly addictive. Found in the roots and leaves of the tobacco plant, anywhere between 0.05 -7.5% of nicotine can be retrieved from a plant.
The substance stimulates the nicotinic acetyl choline receptors in the brain which in turn triggers the dopaminergic transmission. The agent then goes on to simulate the reward centre in charge of lifting someone’s mood and improving cognitive function.
This constant and long-term stimulus for the GABAergic neurons from the nicotine desensitizes them so they stop producing the feel-good hormone dopamine. Then addiction is reinforced as the person craves for more.
How serious is nicotine addiction?
People used to chew tobacco until America discovered it was one of the main causes of sickness and disease with the 480,000 US people it continues to kill every year. It’s thought that around 42 million people in America regularly smoke cigarettes or get their Tabaco fix through cigars, pipes or chew.
The grip nicotine has on individuals is demonstrated in the quitting figures which states that out of the 37 million who try and quit, only 7% succeed.
Cigar and pipe tobacco inhalation deliver more potent hits of nicotine in comparison to cigarettes. In fact, one cigar is the same as consuming several cigarettes. Chewing tobacco is also known as ‘snuff’ and goes into the mouth, resting on the gums or inner cheek then gets ingested via the saliva.
How long does is take to become addicted?
Many are unaware that nicotine is one of the most addictive drug on the market. Even till this point though, medical research has yet to uncover a specific time frame or number of cigarettes that must be smoked before becoming hooked.
However, scientists have alluded to three categories of smokers when looking at addictive potential:
- Individuals who are addicted quickly and easily
- Individuals who get steadily addicted after increasing the number of cigarettes they have
- Individuals who are light smokers or can easily drop the routine and never become addicted.
It’s also discussed that people who start smoking from an earlier age are more susceptible to becoming addicted to nicotine quickly. On the other hand, those who start later in life may not be as sensitive.
Interesting fact! After smoke is inhaled into the lungs, it takes just 10-20 seconds for the substance to travel to the brain and stimulate the pleasure centers.
Some negative side effects of smoking nicotine include:
Since more research has been done into the impact smoking has on one’s health, smoking tobacco has declined back from the early 60’s. However, medical research from the Mayo Clinic has discovered that ‘genetic factors may influence how receptors… respond to high doses of nicotine’ from cigarettes.
This means some may escape the negative health effects associated with smoking for longer than others. But for most smokers continued use does present many potential health issues such as:
- Increased risk of cancers
- Heightened risk of lung, heart of oral disease (smoking causes around 9 out of 10 deaths caused by lung cancer in men and women)
- Increases the risk of coronary heart disease by 2 to 4 times
- Increases stroke risk by 2 to 4 times
- Causes problems with the cardiovascular system from the damaged blood vessels and increase in blood pressure/heartbeat. This could also lead to blood clots preventing flow and increasing the risk of stroke.
- Potential for respiratory disease chronic bronchitis, emphysema increases whilst worsening asthmatic symptoms.
- May make becoming pregnant harder and reduce fertility in males by affecting sperm
- Impact on bone health, teeth, gums and cause tooth loss
- Smoking is linked to type 2 diabetes
Did you know? Nicotine is responsible for one out of 10 adult deaths over the globe annually.
The most addictive illegal drug
The second most addictive drug is heroin. When the elements of addiction (as mentioned above) were compared to the substance, heroin scored one of the highest (5 out of 6 with 6 being the maximum).
Being classed as a Schedule I drug instantly alludes to its addictive power as drugs are only given this classification if there’s a very high risk of dependence and abuse.
How does heroin work?
A derivative of the Opium poppy plant, heroin comes from its seed pod. As soon as it hits the brain it converts to morphine and links to the opioid receptors. Once it connects to the brains neurons it triggers a buzz of euphoria. This intense yet short high is the main thing that keeps people coming back for more.
How long does it take to become addicted?
It differs from person to person but with some individuals, heroin can become addictive just after one use. The time it takes for people to build up a tolerance to the drug, meaning they must take more to achieve the desired high, is also quick.
So, the body is getting used to wanting more and more with each use. As the euphoric high lessens after each hit, heroin impacts health posing significant risks whilst increasing the potential for overdose to reach the high once attained.
How serious is heroin addiction?
According to several sources as well as the harsh realities, it’s clear to see why heroin has the highest ranking for the most addictive drug. This powerful opiate has an alarmingly high rate of addiction with every 1 in 4 people trying the drug becoming addicted at some stage. The big danger also lies in how a deadly dose is only 5x more than the dose needed to reach a high. Additionally, heroin has a very strong risk of death due to relapsing.
How quick does it take to become addicted to heroin?
Being one of the most addictive drugs in the world, becoming hooked on the substance doesn’t take long. The more regularly the drug is used, the quicker a dependence is developed. Dependence is when the body no longer functions normally without the drug.
A person can become psychologically addicted to the substance even after trying it once. Usually dependence occurs after a few times of repeatedly consuming it. Also, tolerance happens quickly with this potent substance.
Negative health effects of heroin
There are several short term and long term negative impacts heroin abuse can have on the body. These include:
- A short rush of good, happy feelings
- Feeling of euphoria
- Reduction of pain
- Feeling lethargic or drowsy
- Itchy, irritated skin
- Slowed down heart beat and respiration
- Decrease in body temperature
- Constricted pupils
- Dry mouth
- Feeling groggy and confused
Longer term health impacts of heroin use include:
- Impact of oral health resulting in damaged teeth, swollen gums and tooth loss
- Bleeding and scabbing of skin from the scratching
- Susceptibility to disease and sickness due to weakened immune system
- Malnutrition through loss of appetite
- Decreased libido and sexual functions
- Experiencing psychological declines such as depression, poor memory and anxiety
- Becoming socially isolated
Need help detoxing? Look no further…
Any habit has the potential to develop into an addiction. Even though the majority can use substances without any issues, some individuals might go through harmful psychological and physical impacts when the habit transitions into addiction.
Drug or alcohol addiction is even more popular than diabetes, effecting around 10% of the entire population (whereas diabetes affects 7%)! This applies across all socio-economic groups and no one is exempt from the power of addiction.
Denial plays a big role in an addict’s life as the feel-good factor will convince them they have no issues, despite the social and health problems it causes. Therefore, outside help is essential in a successful recovery.
Several rehabilitation centers will have services and facilities to help treat meth addiction and you can receive support every step of the way with the dedicated counselors at BLVD.
The residential and outpatient services offered at BLVD Treatment Centers are a great option. Tailored to fit your specific needs, you can seek solace in the undivided attention of our experienced counselors.
When opting for the residential rehab option, you can take advantage of:
- Individualized Detox Treatments
- Chef-Prepared Gourmet Meals
- Medically-Assisted Detox
- A Comprehensive Aftercare Plan
- Convenient Transport Services