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Top 10 addictive drugs

There have been many studies into which drugs are the most harmful based on their addictive properties. Port of Call takes an in-depth look at the top ten most addictive drugs known to man – you might be surprised at the results.

Top 10 addictive drugs

The UK Government’s former top drug adviser, professor David Nutt, was fired from his advisory role after one of his research studies suggested that alcohol and tobacco were more harmful than cannabis and ecstasy based on their addictive properties.

A subsequent study by Dutch scientists replicated Nutt’s study and devised a “dependency rating,” that measured addictive potency of the most well-known drugs, on a precise scale of 0 to 3. These are the surprising results:

10) GHB (Dependency rating: 1.71)
Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) is a club drug that depresses the central nervous system. It causes a relaxed feeling that users come to crave. The problem is that the body’s tolerance for GHB is affected by alcohol consumption. The more a person drinks, the more GHB they need to take to get high effect.
Stats: An American study of 194 deaths attributed to or related to GHB over a ten year period found that most were from respiratory depression caused by interaction with alcohol or other drugs.
9) Benzodiazepines (Dependency rating: 1.89)
Benzodiazepines, such as anti-anxiety prescription drugs like Valium, magnify the effects of a natural chemical called GABA, which combats anxiety by reducing the excitability of neurons in the brain. When tolerance builds up, attempts to quit can cause exaggerated versions of the original condition – severe anxiety for example.
Stats: According to the charity DrugScope, one in seven British adults take benzodiazepines at some time during the year, and one in 40 take them throughout the year.
8) Amphetamines (Dependency rating: 1.95)
Amphetamines mimic the effects of naturally produced pleasure causing chemicals, like dopamine, gradually creating a dependence that can be difficult to overcome. Withdrawal symptoms include depression, anxiety, and extreme fatigue.
Stats: More than 60 per cent of the world’s amphetamines users live in Asia, according to DrugScope.
7) Cocaine (Dependency rating: 2.13)
The presence of cocaine in the brain causes confusion in neural receptors and inhibits the natural production of dopamine. Once dopamine production falls below a certain level, the brain begins to crave cocaine as its replacement, which therein is the basis of cocaine addiction.
Stats: According to DrugScope, nearly 700,000 people aged 16-59 are estimated to take cocaine every year in Britain.
6) Alcohol (Dependency rating: 2.13)
You might be surprised to see alcohol rank so highly in this list. But, although alcohol is legal it can be easy to form a dependence that’s difficult to overcome. A high percentage of people who choose to drink heavily on a regular basis will become addicted. In extreme cases, those experiencing alcohol detoxification have been known to suffer from seizures, lapse into comas, or even die.
Stats: According to Alcohol Concern, alcohol misuse costs England approximately £21bn per year in healthcare, crime and lost productivity costs.
5) Crystal meth (Methamphetamine) (Dependency rating: 2.24)
Crystal meth is a form of amphetamine that mimics the effects of dopamine and another important neuro-chemical: norepinephrine. Sustained use causes neurons to release more of these two substances until the brain becomes saturated, and addicted, to these pleasure causing chemicals.
Stats: The number of crystal meth detections, on the way in to Britain, rose by 400 per cent in the last year, according to the Daily Mail.
4) Methadone (Dependency rating: 2.68)
Methadone is used, under medical supervision, as a substitute for heroin. Once the body adjusts to its presence, it loses its capacity to cause euphoria. However, it is an addictive substance that can cause horrific withdrawal symptoms in its own right.
Stats: The Independent reported that in 2011 around 486 deaths were linked to methadone, taking the mortality rate for men from the drug from 9.9 deaths per million of the population in 2010 to 13.5 a 36% rise and the highest rate since 1997.
3) Nicotine (Dependency rating: 2.82)
Another surprisingly high entry, Nicotine interferes with certain receptors in the brain and inhibits the production of vital neuro-chemicals. Continued over time, the brain becomes dependent on nicotine to replace what it can no longer produce itself. on its own, and this substitution is the basis for the intense type of addiction that nicotine is capable of causing.
Stats: According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tobacco kills nearly six million people each year.
2) Crack Cocaine (Dependency rating: 2.82)
With crack cocaine, the brain’s cycle of dopamine production is once again left imbalanced but because it is smoked it gets absorbed into the bloodstream far quicker – causing a greater rush. The intense desire to recapture the initial high is what proves so addictive for many users.
Stats: According to DrugScope, there are around 180,000 dependent users of crack cocaine in England.
1) Heroin (Dependency rating: 2.89)
Perhaps unsurprisingly, heroin tops the list for most addictive substance. Opiates, like heroin, connect with a number of receptors throughout the body, recreating the effects of endorphins and ultimately causing an extreme form of dependency and intense withdrawal symptoms.
Stats: According to the Health & Social Care Information Centre’s (HSCIC) ‘Statistics on Drug Misuse: England 2013’ report over half (52%) of all deaths related to drug poisoning involved an opiate drug.

So that’s the comprehensive addictive drug list. You may have noticed that Cannabis wasn’t listed. Despite it being the most used drug in the UK (2.3 million users in the last year, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists), the research suggests that it is less addictive than the drugs listed above.

That’s not to say that cannabis use doesn’t come without its dangers however. Some users may experience psychotic symptoms with hallucinations and delusions lasting a few hours. While long-term use can have a depressant effect and reduce motivation.

Contact Port of Call now to find out more about Our Services, including alcohol rehab, drug treatment services and how substance addiction can be treated by our network of addiction experts.

About the author: Martin Preston

Martin is our Founder and Chief Executive. Martin is himself in long term recovery and started Port of Call to help families navigate treatment options. In 2020 Martin will open Delamere Health Ltd, the UK’s first purpose built addiction treatment clinic.

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