The ease with which a person can become hooked on a drug is one of several factors that can go towards determining a drug’s addictive potential. Another factor relates to how the drug makes one feel while taking it, e.g., a subjective description of its pleasurable effects or an objective measure of how it activates the dopamine system in the brain, i.e., the neurological reward system.
Conversely, the extent of the withdrawal symptoms that occur when one stops taking the drug could indicate its addictive potential. Additional factors that can determine the addictiveness of a drug include its street value and its potential to cause harm.
Given the different factors used to determine a drug’s addictiveness, it can be difficult for any two addiction experts to reach a consensus as to the substances with the most addictive potential. One researcher got around this difficulty by surveying a panel of drug experts. The results appear here in ascending order from least addictive to most addictive.
In 2002, 2 billion people worldwide used alcohol, according to estimates by the World Health Organization. While there is a distinction between merely using alcohol and abusing it, a related WHO estimate from 2012 indicated that alcohol-related damage to the body resulted in over 3 million deaths that year alone
Low doses of barbiturates induce euphoria. In the past, doctors prescribed them to treat anxiety. However, barbiturates can slow down breathing to life-threatening levels if taken in high doses.
By 2030, an estimated eight million people per year will die from using tobacco products containing nicotine. Out of all the Americans who have tried smoking, over two-thirds of them reported eventually becoming dependent on it.
People who become dependent on cocaine represent over 21% of those who ever try it. Not only does cocaine increase dopamine levels in the brain, but it also interferes with the neurons to prevent those dopamine signals from turning off.
Compared to the dose required for a high, a fatal overdose of heroin is only five times greater. Heroin has negative effects at a societal level as well as a personal one. In laboratory animals, it increases dopamine levels in the reward centers of the brain by 200%.
A greater understanding of drugs’ addictiveness and effects on the body may induce lawmakers to see drug use as less of a criminal justice issue and more of a public health issue.