Mind & Body

These Are the 5 Most Addictive Substances on Earth, According to Addiction Experts

Addiction is no joke. Though we've all joked about being addicted to "Stranger Things" or pumpkin spice or, obviously, the wonderful Curiosity app, those things aren't out to ruin anyone's lives. Entering the realm of the world's most addictive substances will do just that. Research from 2007 identified the top five most addictive things on Earth.

Might as Well Face It, You're Addicted

A group of addiction experts came together in 2007 to publish a study in the Lancet about the most addictive substances in existence. To do this, they developed a rational scale that could measure the harm of different drugs and their potential misuse. They averaged three factors: pleasure, psychological dependence (cravings, irritability from withdrawal, etc.), and physical dependence (symptoms like headache, nausea, etc.). They scored each drug on a scale from 0-3, where 3 was the most addictive and 0 the least. Here are the top five most addictive substances:

  1. Heroin. Rank: 3 out of 3.
  2. Cocaine. Rank: 2.4 out of 3.
  3. Nicotine. Rank: 2.2 out of 3.
  4. Barbiturates. Rank: 2 out of 3.
  5. Alcohol. Rank: 1.9 out of 3.

Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?

A 2010 study in the Lancet looked at the most addictive drugs and ranked them in a different way: those that do the most harm not only to the users, but also to their family, community, and world.

Members of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs and a few specialists met in a workshop to score 20 drugs on 16 criteria: nine related to the harms that a drug produces in the individual and seven related to the harms it causes others. For example, harms to users included physical costs, psychological issues, and loss of relationships and belongings. Harms to others included less obvious things like the economic costs, crime rates, environmental damage, and family adversities due to a person's dependence on the substance. The drugs were scored out of 100 points, and the criteria were weighted to indicate their relative importance.

The drugs the study found to be the most harmful to individuals lined up closely with the 2007 study. In that category, heroin (score of 34), crack cocaine (37), and methamphetamine (32) were the most harmful to the people taking them.

But the most harmful drugs to the community may be surprising. The panel rated alcohol (score of 46), heroin (21), and crack cocaine (17) as the most harmful to others. Even more striking, the study concluded that, overall, alcohol was the most harmful drug (overall harm score 72), with heroin (55) and crack cocaine (54) following. Beware the bottle, kids.

Get stories like this one in your inbox or your headphones: sign up for our daily email and subscribe to the Curiosity Daily podcast.

Check out the book "Rewire: Change Your Brain to Break Bad Habits, Overcome Addictions, Conquer Self-Destructive Behavior." The audiobook is free with a trial of Audible. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Joanie Faletto December 11, 2017

Curiosity uses cookies to improve site performance, for analytics and for advertising. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.