Drug addiction is a disease affecting the brain and a person’s behavior, classified by an inability to control using drugs.
Addictive substances can rewrite the brain’s pleasure center, rewarding drug use and changing how a person processes information. Additionally, a drug’s addictive properties may seem enhanced by the euphoria they cause and depression that manifests when they wear off. Moreover, chronic drug use can create a cycle of dependency, leading to withdrawal symptoms relieved by another dose.
Most Addictive and Dangerous Drugs
Illicit drug use is a significant problem in the United States, especially in Long Island. While all drugs have the potential to be addictive, not all run the same risk.
Determining the most addictive drug boils down to a few factors:
- How the drug interacts with the brain
- How often can a person acquire it
- How often the person uses it
Still, a few substances stand out when all other circumstances are equal.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid with similar properties to morphine but 100 times the potency. Like morphine, it has medicinal uses for patients experiencing severe pain, especially after surgery. Some doctors also prescribe it to patients physically tolerant of other opioids.
How is fentanyl used?
As a prescriptive drug, fentanyl is often given as a shot, tablet, or patch on the skin.
On the other hand, the illicit street substance is typically sold as a powder, put in eye droppers and nasal sprays, dropped on blotter paper, or made into pills resembling other drugs. Some dealers mix the drug with other powders, including methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, and MDMA, taking advantage of fentanyl’s potency and attempting to stretch their sales. Unfortunately, people who purchase these drugs often don’t realize the inclusion of a dangerous additive.
Fentanyl’s potency makes it highly addictive. Even someone taking prescribed fentanyl can experience dependence, sometimes leading to addictive behaviors.
Another powerfully addictive stimulant, cocaine, is made from coca leaves native to South America. Although it’s another substance that medical providers can use for valid treatment purposes, including local anesthesia, cocaine remains illegal recreationally.
Coc cocaine appears to be a fine crystal powder when sold on the street. Like fentanyl, cocaine is often mixed with inert substances like talcum powder or cornstarch to stretch profits. Some dealers may also mix fentanyl with cocaine, exponentially increasing the drug’s danger.
How is cocaine used?
It’s common for people to rub cocaine in their gums or snort the powder through the nose. Others may dissolve the powder to make it injectable into the bloodstream. In all cases, cocaine increases dopamine levels, affecting movement and the brain’s built-in reward system.
Usually, dopamine returns to the cell that produced it, recycling it when the signal between the nerve cells ends. However, cocaine prevents this return and allows the chemical to build up and disrupt communication. As a result, the interaction reinforces drug-taking behaviors.
Like other drugs, cocaine rewires the brain’s reward circuit over time, which can lead to addiction. Eventually, the circuit adjusts to the new normal, becoming less sensitive to it and requiring larger doses to achieve the same feeling and relief from withdrawal.
Symptoms of withdrawal from cocaine include:
- Increased appetite
- Slowed thinking
- Insomnia and unpleasant dreams
Alcohol is a commonly-used drug, playing a significant role in cultures and societies worldwide. More Americans over the age of 12 have used alcohol in the last year than any other tobacco or drug product.
Moderate alcohol use is rarely harmful to most adults, but millions of Americans struggle with alcohol use disorder. In other words, their drinking results in harm and distress. This condition, also known as alcohol dependence, can range from mild to severe, depending on the symptoms.
Alcohol use disorder is a disease resulting in:
- Strong cravings for alcohol
- Loss of control once you’ve started drinking alcohol
- Feeling irritable and anxious when you aren’t drinking alcohol
Methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant with powerful properties impacting the central nervous system. Crystal methamphetamine is a common form that looks like shiny glass fragments. Chemically, the drug is similar to amphetamine, which treats ADHD and certain sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy.
How is methamphetamine used?
People often use methamphetamine by smoking or snorting the powder, dissolving it into an injectable form, or swallowing it as pills. Because the intensity of the peak starts and fades quickly, it’s not uncommon for people to take repeated “binge and crash” doses. Sometimes, a person may take methamphetamine in back-to-back amounts in the form of binging called a “run,” often sacrificing sleep and food in the meantime.
Like the other drugs on this list, methamphetamine is highly addictive. When someone stops using it, they can experience withdrawal symptoms like:
- Severe depression
- Intense drug cravings
No government-approved medication tackles methamphetamine addiction, although research is underway. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent misuse and addiction through behavioral therapies, such as:
- Cognitive behavior therapy: Helps patients understand, avoid, and cope with trigger situations that can encourage drug use, and
- Motivational incentives: Using vouchers or small cash rewards inspires clients to stay off drugs.
Heroin is an opioid made from natural morphine, taken from the seed pod of opium poppy plants native to Colombia, Mexico, and South Asia. The drug often looks like a white or brown powder or can be a black sticky substance called black tar heroin.
How is heroin used?
A person might inject, snort, sniff, or smoke heroin. Mixed with cocaine, cocaine is called a speedball. However the drug is consumed, it rapidly enters the brain and sticks to opioid receptors, affecting pain, pleasure, breathing, and sleeping.
Again, heroin is highly addictive. Someone who regularly uses it will develop a tolerance, so they’ll need a stronger dose to achieve the same feeling as the first time. When this continued use results in health problems or a failure to meet responsibilities at home, work, or school, the person has developed a substance use disorder. Like with AUD, SUD can range from mild to severe.
Someone who is addicted to heroin and abruptly stops can develop severe withdrawal symptoms within hours:
- Sleep problems
- Cold flashes and goosebumps
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- Severe heroin cravings
- Uncontrollable leg movements
Studies are underway to understand the long-term effect of opioid addiction on a person’s brain. Past research indicates the brain may lose some of its white matter, affecting behavior control, decision-making, and responses to stressful situations.
Risk of Using Illicit Drugs
Taking illegal drugs can lead to many short-term and long-term side effects.
Short-term harm is something temporary that happens because of an episode of inappropriately using medication or using illicit drugs. These impacts vary markedly depending on what drug was used and how much was consumed; they can occur because of the drug itself or because of how the drug was taken.
An overdose occurs when someone accidentally takes a drug or intentionally takes a larger-than-normal dose, resulting in a medical emergency. This type of overdose can occur when using too much of an illicit or prescribed drug or a combination.
How much of a drug causes an overdose varies, depending on how pure the substance is, how tolerant a person is to it, and whether or not the person has also recently consumed alcohol or other drugs.
Long-term health impacts occur due to chronic drug use and vary depending on the person and the substance in question, including type and amount.
Like short-term harm, long-term effects can result from the drug or how it was taken. For example, someone who has carelessly shared injecting equipment with someone with a bloodborne virus risks catching it themselves.
Help is always within reach; you can receive addiction treatment today.
Help is within Reach: Contact Long Island Interventions Today
At Long Island Interventions, we help New Yorkers seeking rehabilitation services. Our dedicated team is experienced and compassionate, capable of understanding and helping you adapt to the challenges on your road to recovery. With an individualized treatment plan, you stand the best chance of long-term recovery from substance use. Contact Long Island Interventions today to request a confidential assessment.