Highly addictive drugs create an incredibly strong psychological and physiological need to use them, despite the user being aware of the harm they cause to themselves.
The most addictive drugs have the most painful and challenging withdrawal symptoms. These withdrawals can be so strong that eventually, the user stops seeking these drugs for the highs and instead uses them to avoid the withdrawals. As a result, this kind of pattern can have fatal consequences.
Alcohol is the drug of choice for around 2 billion people globally today. This makes it by far the most commonly used addictive substance available. According to the World Health Organization, around 3 million people die from alcohol abuse globally each year.
What Makes Alcohol Addictive?
Alcohol’s legal status makes it easily accessible, making it very difficult for someone to quit once they develop a dependency. It is also used in many social events because it depresses the nervous system and lowers your inhibitions.
Alcohol promotes the release of neurotransmitters, in particular GABA, which releases dopamine in the brain. This is responsible for alcohol’s sedative effects and helps to create a relaxed and pleasurable mood. Therefore, alcohol makes it much easier to engage in social bonding or risky behavior.
Addictive Drinking Patterns
While light to moderate, responsible drinking can be relatively harmless, heavy drinking or binging can have major consequences. Alcohol has the power to change the way the brain functions. The more someone drinks, the more alcohol they need just to feel that same pleasurable feeling. This habit paves the way for a vicious cycle until, eventually, the person needs to drink a lot just to feel normal.
Withdrawal Symptoms From Alcohol
Once alcoholism is a reality, the person cannot simply quit. The withdrawal symptoms can be very severe, including nausea, hand tremors, depression, insomnia, anxiety, seizures, and even death. This is why so many alcoholics simply continue drinking to avoid withdrawals. The user’s best option is to seek treatment rather than trying to fight the addiction on their own.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, amphetamine-type drugs are the most widely used, with over 24.7 million users worldwide.
One of the most commonly abused amphetamines is crystal methamphetamine, a synthetic variant of d-methamphetamine, and has been known to hook users after a single use.
What Makes Crystal Meth Addictive?
When someone smokes, injects, or snorts crystal meth, they begin to experience intense feelings of pleasure and euphoria as the brain is flooded with neurotransmitters such as dopamine and adrenaline.
Addictive Patterns Associated With Crystal Meth
Users quickly build up a tolerance to this drug, causing them to experience a craving for more crystal meth as they attempt to relive the high they got the first time.
But since the drug releases so much dopamine into the brain, this can cause both dopamine and serotonin levels to deplete over prolonged use and change the brain structure. Eventually, the user may require a dosage of the drug just to function as normal.
Withdrawal Symptoms of Crystal Meth
Withdrawal symptoms can be severe, with effects such as insomnia, paranoia, hallucinations, and even suicidal thoughts.
The craving for this drug can be so crippling that they may steal from loved ones or engage in criminal activity to get the money for crystal meth. At this stage, the addict is not even chasing the high anymore; they are just trying to avoid the suffering of withdrawals.
A 2020 report from the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime said there are 57.8 million heroin users worldwide. These kinds of figures are a true testament to the addictive properties of this drug. The cravings and withdrawals involved with this opiate are so severe that having an addiction to heroin is not a choice. Instead, it is classed as an illness.
What Makes Heroin Addictive?
Heroin is a depressant drug, meaning the user experiences an intense rush of euphoria followed by an intense state of relaxation for a few hours. This state can be so intense that the user may even forget to breathe.
The chemical structure of heroin is quite similar to our natural endorphins. Heroin stimulates the receptors in our brains responsible for these endorphins so much that they become worn out.
Addictive Patterns Associates With Heroin
Heroin users quickly build up a tolerance for the drug. This means the user will seek out stronger doses to keep getting high. This kind of pattern puts the user at serious risk of a fatal overdose.
Withdrawal Symptoms of Heroin
Even if the user manages to survive an overdose, they are still under threat from the powerful withdrawal symptoms. These include paranoia, nausea, shaking, depression, muscle and bone pain, and suicidal thoughts. While these withdrawals may only last a week, it is often impossible for the user to battle these alone without relapsing. Therefore they often require the supervision of medical detox.
One of the most common misconceptions about addiction is that it is up to the user to snap out of drug addiction. But addiction is not a choice.
The most addictive drugs are the ones that change the way the brain functions. This means that addiction is a disorder that the user has little to no control over. So if you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, remember that there is support available to help you take back control of your life.
Native of Moldova, Dr. Zhitar is Board Certified in Addiction Medicine as well as Internal Medicine and completed his training at UPMC Shadyside, Pittsburgh, PA in 2000.