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An Exhaustive list of Addictive Drugs

Drug use causes a lot of pain, there’s no way around that fact. To the user, to family and to friends. It scorches the earth in that sense. Many factors go into why someone uses in the first place but once you’re hooked, you’re hooked. The grasp these substances have on the lives they touch is immensely powerful and can tear at the seams of that life and the relationships in it.

This tight hold is what makes drugs not only so dangerous but so difficult to cut loose from.

An Introduction to Addictive Drugs

It’s been stated enough times that it feels like it has lost its meaning and truth, but it always bears repeating that drugs can ruin your life.
Often, it’s a slippery slope and happens in such a sly fashion, one drug becoming the gateway to the next until you’re so deep in the hole that you can’t even make out the light.

Long term drug use devastates the body and mind, making you a shell of your former self. This devastation, however, isn’t a localized and contained experience. Substance use disorders may tear apart the user but those around him or her aren’t spared either. The emotional toll on family and friends of watching, helplessly, as someone they love slips away from them shatters the heart.

The very nature of these substances and the potency of the effect makes the cycle of abuse seem endless once you’re addicted and getting off of them takes a gargantuan and concerted effort.  Or, in perhaps an even more cruel twist of fate, you’ve been prescribed drugs to treat a tangible issue with pain, for example. The sheer strength of what you’re taking and the genuine relief you seem to be getting causes you to chase higher doses with all deliberate speed.

list of addictive drugs in a brain

List of Addictive Drugs

Not all drugs are created equally. Their effects vary dramatically.
Some of what’s discussed below will seem innocuous. When you think “drugs” the mind tends to gravitate towards what we broadly consider the harder ones, things we don’t touch and therefore can claim we’re personally not dependent on anything. However, that’s more of a reflection of our collective normalization of certain drugs than us actually being free of addiction. That’s ultimately a part of the issue surrounding substance abuse.
Nicotine and alcohol are prime examples.
Therefore, drugs and their corresponding addictiveness run the gamut from the everyday and commonly used to the highly publicized opioid epidemic and everything in between.
Keep in mind, the following list is not ranked in order of addictiveness.


addictive drugs: opoioids

Perhaps the most well-covered drug of late due to the crisis we face in this nation, opioids do serve a legitimate and important medical purpose.

In general, and as per the National Institutes of Health, “Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, and many others”.

As you’ll note from those brands and drug names, many opioids are essentially household names at this point.
While they are commonly prescribed and legal in that capacity, drugs like heroin are potent opioids as well and are very much illegal.

No matter which you take though, they all act similarly in interacting with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain and produce feelings of euphoria and pain relief. In other words, they are painkillers and used to great effect in that capacity in treating chronic and severe pain related to everything from headaches to recovery from surgery to those undergoing intense cancer treatment.

Given the broadly applicable uses, it’s no wonder that opioids are widely prescribed and easy to abuse.
Abuse and addiction to them show in a myriad of ways. Mood swings, anxiety, depression, bursts of euphoria. Physically, chronic use can cause exhaustion, sedation, muscle spasms, nausea and seizures. Opioid addiction also causes users to act much differently; forging prescriptions, stealing, social isolation, lethargy, becoming flaky with personal and professional obligations.

Learn more about opiate addiction.

Crystal Meth

For starters, methamphetamine is completely a man-made drug, it just doesn’t occur naturally. 

Crystal meth goes by a lot of names on the street, ice, glass, crank, speed and a whole host of other names but no matter the name, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s an incredibly addictive substance which affects the central nervous system.
Meth is a stimulant that causes dopamine to flood the brain which leads to potent feelings of euphoria and pleasure, an experience so powerful that it can hook users extremely quickly and have them seeking the high aggressively. That makes crystal meth one of the hardest drugs to quit.

It can be smoked, snorted, swallowed or injected and the method of intake and administration can dramatically affect the intensity of the high.

Signs of prolonged meth use manifest in several striking ways, physically it includes; tooth decay, general disregard for appearance and hygiene, sores on the skin, extreme and rapid weight loss, twitchiness, erratic movements and shifts in energy levels, among others. On the behavior side, you’ll see mood swings and outbursts, paranoia and sleep patterns that become more and more unusual. Crystal meth has a binge-crash cycle to its use and the intense pleasure it creates is followed by feelings of depression and tiredness, which are accompanied by severe cravings when the drug wears off.

Learn more about crystal meth.

list of addictive drugs: crystal meth


addictive drugs: cocaine

Existing for millennia, cocaine is derived from the coca leaf and was chewed by the peoples of South America for thousands of years. The purified chemical was isolated only in the early 1900s according to the N.I.H. and was famously in an early ingredient of Coca-Cola.

History aside, cocaine, similar to other drugs in this list, increases levels of dopamine and alters the circuitry of the reward system in the brain leading to intense euphoria and perpetual reinforcement of the drug-taking behavior. The more the brain gets used to the heightened levels of dopamine while taking cocaine, it forces the user to take increasingly more f the drug to get the same high.

Cocaine is most frequently snorted, so the signs of addiction concentrate there; lost sense of smell, nosebleeds, runny nose, hoarse voice and difficulty swallowing. Aside from those effects, cocaine can increase the risk for heart problems, up to and including heart attacks, respiratory issues, strokes, digestive problems and skin infections.

Learn more about cocaine.


As mentioned above, this is one of the tougher ones to wrap our heads around as being problematic because it’s often every present. Who among us doesn’t know someone who doesn’t have a casual drink occasionally, a glass of wine when out or a beer while watching the game?

The difference between that type of controlled drinking and outright alcoholism is night and day.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that 14.4 million adults had alcohol use disorder in 2018 and that 26.45% had engaged in binge drinking within the past month.
To put alcohol abuse into perspective and show truly encapsulate the devastation that uncontrolled drinking can cause, consider alcohol is the 3rd leading preventable cause of death in America these days.

Signs of alcohol abuse and alcoholism are an inability to control the drinking, bailing on other activities and prioritizing alcohol, drinking more despite clear consequences in areas of your life like relationships, profession, finances and more. Like other substances, denial is strong when presented with evidence of alcoholism.

Learn more about alcoholism.

addictive drugs: alcohol

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Another of our normalized drugs, in use by millions of people across the country daily. Multiple times per day.

Nicotine acts like many other drugs in the way it releases more dopamine into the brain. You get a “hit” of dopamine with every puff to the point that it spirals out of control and you find yourself smoking a pack a day or more.

Including deaths from secondhand smoke, cigarette smoking causes 1 out of every 5 deaths in the United States every year. That makes smoking cigarettes, and nicotine addiction, the leading cause of preventable death in the country.

Life expectancy for smokers is 10 years shorter according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, the chances that a lifelong smoker will die prematurely from complications of smoking is 50%.

Extremely stark and dramatic numbers for something we see every day.

The signs someone may be addicted are somewhat similar to alcohol, an inability to quit, withdrawal symptoms when you do, continuing to smoke despite clearly escalating health issues and giving up on social activities because you can’t smoke like not going to a dinner party at a smoke-free restaurant for example.


Barbiturates are most often compared with benzodiazepines due to the similar effects they have. Similarly, they’re sedative-hypnotics which function as nervous system depressants. In simpler terms, these are things like tranquilizers and slow down activity in the brain.

Barbiturates used to be regularly prescribed for things like insomnia and seizures as well as reducing anxiety. Some common drugs include Butisol and Nembutal. However, much of what they used to cover has shifted to benzodiazepines like Xanax of late. This is largely because barbiturates are much more dangerous and aren’t as effective as benzos.

Even with the move away from barbiturates, in 2018, 405,000 Americans were on them and misuse was rampant.

The signs of possible overdose are shallow breathing, clammy skin, dilated pupils, erratic pulse, respiratory issues up to and including failure and even falling into a coma.

Let Above All Treatment assist you in breaking free from addiction by helping you find the right California substance abuse treatment facility for your needs.

Barbiturates are an addictive drug

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American Statistics

What Are the Common Drugs Of Abuse?

Of the drugs listed there are varying degrees of abuse but as far as the most common, alcohol and nicotine are far and away in the top spots. They’re so “every day” that in addition to both being in the top 3 of most preventable deaths, they’re generally used while users abuse other drugs.

As far as the other drugs, the big newsmaker of late (and rightfully so) has been opioids. The United States faces an absolute catastrophe in terms of the onslaught of death those have brought.

That’s not to diminish the real pain and trauma other drugs cause in the lives of addicts and they’re friends and families but simply to point out how widespread some of these things are.

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How to get cleanfrom highly addictive drugs

Fortunately for all of us, addiction is not a death sentence or even a life sentence. It is possible to get through to the other side of this disease and there are so many great resources and facilities to guide you to sobriety and a new life.

For the most part, all treatment centers follow a similar overall structure.

Yes, there is a famous TV show that documents the tough reality of this process. Sometimes an intervention is necessary to help the addict grasp the extent of their addiction. The idea is to get the individual to agree to a treatment program and it’s arguably the hardest step to take. Having a trained interventionist develop a strategy is your best chance at success

Learn more about interventions.

If an intervention isn’t necessary for you or your loved one to get into treatment, detox is your first step on the path towards recovery. It’s highly recommended to detox under the guidance of medical professionals, going it on your own can have dire consequences, including the risk of death.

Withdrawal symptoms vary by substance and can be extremely severe depending on which drug you’re coming off of and how dependent your body is on it which is why being in an environment where you’re monitored and safe is important.

Fortunately, drug and alcohol detox centers in California are plentiful.

Learn more about detox.

After setting a firm foundation in detox, the next step is moving into a residential inpatient program for a few weeks or months to make sure you’re equipped with the tools and strategies to avoid relapse and maintain your new sober and healthy life confidently.

Crucially, each residential inpatient program is created to suit the individual needs of each client.

Simply getting clean isn’t enough, it’s just the base on which your new life is built.

Learn more about residential inpatient.

While it would be “nice” if traumas only came one at a time, it’s just not how the world works. Dual diagnosis is just as it appears; when someone is going through substance abuse and mental illness at the same time.

That can be anything from depression to bipolar disorder to PTSD. Handling these together can help bring into focus any type of cause/effect relationship between substance abuse and mental illness ultimately working to create an even more holistic treatment experience.

Learn more about dual diagnosis.

Completing all the above is still just the beginning in some ways because you have the whole rest of your life ahead of you to continue the work of recovery and sobriety. That may seem daunting but everything leading to this point has set you up for long term success and your touchpoints with your treatment center don’t end.

Aftercare planning, outpatient treatment, continued therapy and sober living options are all available to make sure your freedom from drug and alcohol addiction is a last one.

Learn more about aftercare planning.

At the end of the day, addiction is beatable and the odds are on your side when finding the right treatment option, at All Above Treatment that’s what we do. We’re a free and comprehensive resource, built from over a decade of experience helping thousands, that works tirelessly as your advisor, advocate and assistant in getting you on the road to recovery. Addiction treatment in California is only a call away.

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