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What Drugs are Addictive?

What drugs are Addictive? Read on to find out what drugs are addictive, what makes a drug addictive, and treatment options.

What Are Addictive Drugs?

It is a common belief that many people who suffer from drug addiction lack strict principles or determination to stop using drugs; after all, “they should be able to stop whenever they choose to.” However, this belief is entirely wrong as a drug use habit can be quite difficult to drop. Drugs implicated in drug use or substance abuse disorders are termed “addictive drugs.” But what exactly are addictive drugs?  1

How Does Addiction Form?

Addictive drugs affect the brain’s reward system by flooding it with dopamine. Addictive drugs act on the part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens, releasing dopamine to the other part of the brain and encouraging repeated use to feel the same sensation. You will develop “tolerance” to the drug whereby the same amount or dose you’ve been taking is no longer sufficient to give you that euphoric or “high” feeling you’re after.

You expose the brain to the substance every time you abuse a drug. With repeated exposure to the drug over a certain period, the brain rewires itself and begins to depend on the drug or substance of abuse to function correctly. 2

How Common is Drug Addiction?

Unfortunately, although it has been associated with several undesirable adverse effects, drug addiction is still one significant health ailment today. According to WHO, up to 35 million people worldwide are currently struggling with drug addiction, and 500,000 deaths are caused by illicit drug use annually. 3

What Drugs Are Addictive?

Highly addictive drugs are quite common. People have developed an addiction to several different types of drugs and substances. It is a common misconception always to think the term “addictive drugs” only applies to illegal substances of abuse; however, you should know that some prescription medications fall under the canopy of the term “addictive drugs” as well. 4

Drugs that interact with or alter the brain’s reward system generally have addiction-causing effects. Some examples of these drugs include methadone, benzodiazepines, amphetamine, and nicotine. Generally, however, a beneficial way of detecting or identifying addictive drugs is by evaluating their impact on normal brain functioning and the effects or “feelings” they cause.

What Makes a Drug Addictive?

As earlier mentioned, drugs that are addictive affect the reward circuit of the brain. This is because they form an “unhealthy” reward system that encourages users to keep up with drug intake by “rewarding” them with euphoric feelings when they do so. As a result of this, frequent and continuous drug use leads to repeated and prolonged brain exposure to these drugs.

Over time the brain becomes dependent on these drugs to function properly. The control of "if and when" to consume these drugs is transferred from the forebrain to the hindbrain (the part of the brain that controls involuntary impulses). 1 As a result, drug use becomes involuntary, compulsive, and ADDICTIVE.

What Are the Most Addictive Drugs?

what drugs are addictive

Addictive drugs cut across drugs prescribed by physicians and those obtained via illegal purchase. Top addictive drugs that have been identified to have the most addiction-causing effects include the following. 5


Continuous alcohol consumption has been known to result in alcohol addiction. In this state, the frequent intake of alcohol-containing substances changes neurons in the brain, which negatively impacts speech and judgment.

It also causes gaps in memory due to the block in the transfer of memories to long-term storage. Symptoms of alcohol misuse can include vomiting, confusion, seizure, brain damage, and even death.


Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs primarily used in treating and managing mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Although effective and widely used, benzodiazepines have a high addiction profile thanks to their sedative effects, so long-term use of benzodiazepines usually results in addiction and dependence on the drug. 6

Illicit Drugs

Illicit drug substances such as cocaine, amphetamine, and heroin have also been linked with several addiction cases globally. These drugs can either excite (as is the case with cocaine) or inhibit the central nervous system. Some (e.g., marijuana) can even cause visual and auditory hallucinogenic effects. 7

This drug category is what people think of in response to the question, “what drugs are addictive.”


This group of addictive substances includes some commonly used drugs like morphine, methadone, heroin, and hydrocodone. These drugs are usually employed as “painkillers” in hospitals; however, they are closely monitored because they have high addiction profiles and affect sedation and euphoria.

Sleeping Pills

Sleeping pills are medications commonly prescribed for people who have sleeping disorders such as insomnia. These drugs, however, are not intended for prolonged use as their sedative effects could become very addictive very quickly to users. 8


Stimulants are medications that increase attentiveness, energy, heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure. These types of addictive drugs are usually prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Stimulants amplify the effect of norepinephrine and dopamine. They generally cause euphoric feelings like most other addictive drugs, which explains why they are addictive.

Other drugs like hallucinogens, cold medicine, steroids, and even inhalants have also been linked with addiction-causing effects when misused or abused.

Addictive Drugs Effects and Health Risks

One major thing that makes addictive drugs so dangerous is their capacity to cause severe health effects on users. This is made worse because even when these adverse effects manifest, these drug users have little to no control over their habits. Hence, they are unable to stop (without proper medical intervention).

The adverse effects and health risks of addictive drug use are divided into two main categories:

Short-term Risk of Addictive Drugs

Short-term health risks of addictive drugs refer to the adverse health effects that occur or are likely to occur within a short period of drug use. They include the following:

  • Confusion and memory problems
  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Anxiety and paranoia
  • Heart attack

Long-term Risk of Addictive Drugs

This category of side effects usually develops gradually over a long period. They are usually more dangerous and challenging to treat than the short-term health risks and effects. Long term risk of addictive drugs can include the following:

  • Weight loss and poor nutrition
  • Lung damage
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Collapsed veins
  • Pneumonia

Treatment Options for Addictive Drugs

Drug addiction treatment differs according to your specific needs. The treatment option employed usually depends on several factors such as addictive drug types, the care level you need, your mental health needs, and the treatment you can afford. 9 Regardless of the “details, however,” drug addiction treatment generally includes the following:

Drug Detox

Detoxification is mainly combined with therapies because it doesn’t treat the actual cause of the addiction. Drug detox involves a gradual, systematic reduction of drug levels in the body. It is usually accompanied by several mild to severe withdrawal symptoms, so it is preferably done in an “inpatient or residential” environment. 9

Inpatient Rehab

Inpatient rehab, also known as a residential treatment center, is a form of addiction treatment where patient’s check in into a safe environment and are under the direct supervision of medical care providers. Inpatient rehab is usually recommended for patients with severe addiction problems or those who have no solid support structure. This rehab program can last from about 28 days to 24 weeks.

Outpatient Rehab

Outpatient rehab is a recovery program that focuses on educating about common addictive drugs and counseling individuals and groups. It is usually recommended for people with not-so-severe addiction issues. It can involve therapy sessions where addiction patients are taught to live without depending on their drugs.

12-Step Program

The 12-step program is a therapy program that is widely employed in treating and managing alcohol and substance abuse disorders. It’s usually done in group therapy, and it recognizes that there is a negative effect of addiction which can be physical, emotional, and social. 9

Support Groups

Support groups provide you with an environment where you are exposed to people who have the same goal as you. This group also encourages you to participate in self-help during or after a formal treatment from a center. It’s beneficial during recovery as it helps to provide a sort of “family environment” so you feel less isolated and lonely. 10

Find Help for Drug Addiction in San Diego

what drugs are addictive

Addiction is linked with several debilitating health effects, not to mention that it can also negatively impact your emotional and social well-being. Due to its complexity and associated withdrawal symptoms (mild and severe), it is almost impossible to safely and effectively get rid of addiction. Therefore, addiction treatment is important.

Drug Addiction Rehab Program at Genesis Recovery

Genesis Recovery is a holistic-centered rehab center that helps individuals struggling with any addiction to drugs and alcohol. At Genesis Recovery, the primary aim is to help all those tangled with an unhealthy lifestyle to be free from depression, financial and family issues.

Addiction might be challenging to deal with by yourself; however, you don't have to do it independently. Addiction patients at Genesis Recovery have access to the latest evidence-based treatment that has been used to effect positive changes and a nurturing environment that help inspire those in recovery. Reach out today, and let’s help you get on the path of actualizing an addiction-free life.


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