Learn About Addictive Drugs

The top five most addictive drugs in America may or may not surprise you, especially because two of the substances that made the list are legal to buy and own. We’ll go over what these substances are, what makes them addictive, and what you can do if you or someone you know is addicted to them and needs help. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, call WhiteSands Alcohol and Drug Rehab today at (877) 640-7820 to learn how we can help.


Other names: Cigarettes, Hookah, Chewing tobacco, Vape

Appearance: colorless or yellowish oily liquid found in tobacco, extracted and put into “juices” for vaping 

Ingestion: smoking or vaping

Effect on the brain: almost immediate, mildly stimulating, releases dopamine in the brain’s reward system

Long-term side effects: lung cancer, mouth/throat cancer, yellow teeth, bad breath, emphysema 

Withdrawal Symptoms: irritability, anger, insomnia, anxiety, intense cravings


  • Considered one of the most complex addictive substances to quit — comparable to heroin
  • Easy to access


Other names: Beer, Wine, Liquor, Cocktails, Shots 

Appearance: liquid but varies in color and flavor depending on the type

Ingestion: drinking 

Effect on the brain: feelings of euphoria, loss of inhibition, loss of coordination, releases dopamine and serotonin in the brain

Long-term side effects: cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer, stomach cancer, mental decline, fatigue, 

Withdrawal Symptoms: irritability, tremors, nausea, feelings of illness. 


  • According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse: it is the third leading preventable cause of death in America
  • One of the most commonly abused substances. 
  • Widely used as a coping skill for stress
  • The brain becomes dependent even without experiencing stress.

Learn about the most common illegal drugs here:

Top 10 Most Common Illegal Drugs


Other names: Blow, Snow, Coke

Appearance: fine white powdery substance

Ingestion: snorting or injecting

Effect on the brain: speedy delivery to the brain releases dopamine.

Long-term side effects: paranoia, anxiety, sleeplessness, mental decline, psychosis, loss of sense of smell, nosebleeds, nasal cancer

Withdrawal Symptoms: insomnia, irritability, anger, mood swings, depression


  • Short “high” — 30-60 mins — encourages frequent use.
  • Crack cocaine was developed as a chemically altered version and creates a longer “high.”
  • Crack cocaine has stronger altering properties and has intense adverse health effects after long-term use. 


Other names: Speed, Crank, Ice, Meth, Crystal Meth

Appearance: crystals with a white or bluish tint 

Ingestion: snorting, smoking, or injecting 

Effect on the brain: effects dopamine and norepinephrine transmitters in the brain, feelings of invincibility, increased energy, lack of sleep

Long-term side effects: paranoia, skin sores from itching, mouth rot from smoking, mental decline, erratic speech, behavior, and body movements, cognitive decline

Withdrawal Symptoms: intense cravings, muscle pain, fatigue, anxiety, insomnia


  • Effects can be felt for 8-24 hours. 
  • Less meth is needed to produce hours-long effects than other stimulant drugs, making it cheaper. 
  • The “come down” leaves users feeling dramatically lower, causing them to quickly seek it out to use again.


Other names: Dope, Smack, H

Appearance: fine white powder in the purest form, gray to black more commonly

Ingestion: injecting, smoking, or snorting

Effect on the brain: intense euphoria, suppressed noradrenaline, releases dopamine and serotonin 

Long-term side effects: weight loss, bodily decline, heroin dependency, cognitive decline, altered ability to regulate behavior, manage stress and make decisions.

Withdrawal Symptoms: muscle cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, body tremors, muscle and bone pain, 


  • Considered the most addictive drug
  • Creates strong physical dependency
  • Withdrawal symptoms are felt as soon as 6 hours after less dose.
  • Causes suppression of noradrenaline. When this suppression is released, physical symptoms are triggered by noradrenaline toxicity.
  • Many users with heroin addiction end up only continuing to use to prevent symptoms of withdrawal. 

Drug Detox and Rehab at WhiteSands

If you are personally struggling with substance abuse or someone you care about is struggling with addiction, there are ways to seek help and recover back to a life free from drugs and alcohol. 

At WhiteSands Alcohol and Drug Rehab’s treatment centers, we offer a full continuum of care to meet the needs of every individual patient and get them on the safest, most comfortable, and quickest road to long-term recovery. We specialize in the dual diagnosis approach to treating substance use disorder. This process identifies and targets the physical elements of drug abuse and the underlying mental health aspects that are the root cause of why many people with addiction have turned to drugs or alcohol to cope with stress. 

Reach out to our 24-hour offices at WhiteSands to learn more about our alcohol and drug addiction treatment programs and how we strive to raise the industry standard of behavioral health and addiction recovery centers. We would love to demonstrate our investment and dedication to your recovery journey.  

If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.

About the Author

Jackie has been involved in the substance abuse and addiction treatment sector for over five years and this is something that she is truly eager about. She has a passion for writing and continuously works to create informative pieces that not only educate and inform the public about the disease of addiction but also provide solutions for those who struggle with drug and alcohol abuse.