Why Some Drugs Are More Dangerous Than Others
Drug abuse and addiction come in many forms. People of all ages and backgrounds can be swept up in the disease in just one use. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates nearly 9 percent of all Americans (more than 22 million) struggle with addiction. It’s a terrible trend that has dire consequences – from job loss, crushed family relations, humiliation and even death; drug addiction can be devastating.
The Top 10 Most Addictive Substances in America
In 2007, David Nutt, a researcher from London’s Imperial College, performed extensive studies on different drugs, their harmfulness, and addictiveness. He created a scale that measured the pleasure, psychological dependence, and physical dependence associated with each substance. The range was set from 0 (least addictive) to 3 (most addictive). According to Nutt’s evidence, here are the top 10 most addictive drugs along with Nutt’s numerical rating.
Many people would not be surprised to learn that heroin is the most addictive drug available. Nutt’s study placed the opioid analgesic at the very top of the list of drugs that cause the most dependency. Heroin was developed in the late 1800s by combining acetyl groups and morphine as a way to alleviate the pain of surgical procedures, but it was also known for its euphoric effects. Because of this, it was named Morpheus, after the Greek god of dreams.
When used, this drug breaks down into the parent compound for an extremely strong physical and psychological high. Heroin is a depressant, too. This means it slows down functions throughout the entire body. The central nervous system, in particular, sees a dramatic reduction in functionality. Unlike other depressants, however, it comes a feeling of euphoria and deep relaxation.
Heroin is so intensely addictive because it mimics the body’s own production of relief – endorphins. It acts extremely quickly, especially when injected, bypassing the blood-brain barrier for immediate relief of all pain – both physical and emotional. The brain’s chemistry can be changed even with one or two uses, making it rely on heroin. To maintain that sense of calm, users will need to rely on higher quantities of the drug, more often.
2. Cocaine (Crack)
Cocaine offers an intense high, complete with a strong sense of euphoria. It behaves as a stimulant, allowing users to feel energized, alert, and confident. This is because the drug acts as a dopamine reuptake inhibitor, forcing the brain to release higher levels of dopamine.
Cocaine can be used in its standard form, which is generally snorted through the nose, or it can be transformed into a concentrated rock called crack. Crack provides a stronger high and is generally smoked. The high associated with crack and cocaine is much shorter than other drugs, but despite this, it’s highly addictive because it offers users enhanced focus, energy, and more. Coming down from it — however — can be extremely difficult because it occurs so swiftly, and the “comedown” is very harsh. Dopamine levels plummet, and many people seek to get high again soon after to avoid the crash.
Some people assume that nicotine is less addictive than other drugs because it is legal. This is far from the truth. The rating of nicotine’s addiction level is very close to that of cocaine, and far more people buy cigarettes, chewing tobacco or other tobacco products.
Nicotine is a very strong stimulant that comes from the Solanaceae plant. Nicotine, like cocaine, affects the brain’s dopamine levels. However, it also increases the production of epinephrine. This can help improve cognition while enhancing relaxation and offering slight euphoria. Twenty percent of the deaths in the United States are resulting the of tobacco products, equaling nearly a thousand people dying per day from nicotine. This, combined with the fact that it quickly forms habits and is very hard to quit, solidifies nicotine’s place as number three.
Unfortunately, manufacturers of tobacco products generally include other addictive substances like acetaldehyde, which enhance nicotine’s already addictive qualities.
Methadone is a drug many physicians use as a way to wean heroin addicts off the drug. Though it reproduces the pain relief and relaxation of heroin, it doesn’t produce the same euphoric effects. The goal was to help people experience less severe withdrawals by introducing the more potent drug.
The problem is that methadone itself also affects brain chemistry. Users experience less of a high, but still a great sense of relief. Also, because it stops severe withdrawals, users may become mentally dependent on it, which can be just as strong as a physical dependency. Thousands of people visit clinics to transition to methadone and quit opioids, but unfortunately, many simply exchange one addiction for another.
5. Crystal Methamphetamine
This drug, like so many others, is a stimulus that creates sensations of euphoria. Like how crack is a variant of cocaine, crystal meth is a version of standard powder methamphetamine, which offers a more potent reaction. A dose of crystal meth significantly increases the activity in the central nervous system. Users often feel very powerful or unstoppable with boosts of energy. However, crystal meth can also cause aggression, irritability, and hyperactivity because it affects dopamine levels.
When the drug runs its course and the high is over, many users experience what is called “tweaking,” where they will experience extreme despair coupled with cravings. During this stage, many will suffer delusions and experience psychotic episodes.
Barbiturates depress the activity in the nervous system, leading to feelings of relaxation and sleepiness. Barbiturates are also a minor analgesic. This can encourage people to take those more frequently to manage pain, which leads to higher tolerance. In fact, the rapid development of tolerance is one of the reasons why barbiturates rank so highly. This is because the drugs affect the GABA receptors in the brain, changing the levels of chemicals available.
Doctors rarely, if ever, prescribe barbiturates anymore so addiction to them is also rare, but for those who are addicted, withdrawals can be life-threatening.
Again, people underestimate the addictive potential of alcohol because of its legal status. Culturally, drinking is a much more accepted form of addiction than prescription or illicit drug dependency, but it is no less abused. Many television shows glorify weekend drinking or consuming alcohol with friends, potentially increasing the usage.
Although it rates as one of the lower substances on this list, alcohol has the highest ranking for intoxication. Because of it from a close bond with the central nervous system, withdrawals from alcohol are extremely painful and can even be fatal.
Drugs like Xanax and Valium benzodiazepines, or benzos, and have a sedative-like effect on the brain. Like barbiturates, they act on the neurotransmitter GABA, decreasing the central nervous system activity. As a result, people experience decreased excitability and anxiolytic effects. Often prescribed by doctors to help during panic attacks, users quickly begin to tolerate them, leading to higher dosages and more dependency.
Because of its effects on the brain, reliance on the drug is high, and, similar to alcohol, withdrawals can be deadly without proper medical supervision.
Amphetamines are not a class of stimulant. They are drugs that affect the central nervous system and offer a buzz to most people. However, they can also be medically used to treat ADHD, or disorders like narcolepsy.
Amphetamines produce an improvement in mood, social behavior, and energy, though doctors don’t classify them as stimulants. They are prescribed for people who suffer from ADHD or narcolepsy, but when people use them recreationally, they can have serious side effects, including a tough crash. Once people become dependent on them, they often need more to maintain a high.
Buprenorphine is used for a similar purpose as methadone, an opioid replacement therapy to help ease the transition from substances such as heroin. Like the other replacement therapy drug, people become hooked on buprenorphine quickly because it is a potent chemical. Withdrawal symptoms can keep people addicted to buprenorphine for years, with users swapping one addiction for another.
Avoid Dangerous Addicting Substances
Addiction can make users feel desperate, leading to a loss of control, but not all drugs are created equal. Though there is no “safe” dependence on drugs, some substances are more addictive than others. Even first time users can fall prey to addiction, and the consequences can be dire.
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