Addiction is complicated and only a small part is about the substance itself. A more complete picture of addiction emerges when you consider the biology and psychology of the user. For example, someone with severe anxiety might easily become addicted to Xanax because it relieves her anxiety. Another person might be genetically disposed to get a lot of pleasure from drinking alcohol. Individual differences aside, the substance does matter. Although nearly all drugs have some potential for abuse, not all drugs are equally addictive. For example, only about 9 percent of all frequent marijuana users develop a serious addiction, while about 23 percent of opioid users become addicted. Here are some reasons some drugs are more addictive than others.
They’re faster acting.
One key aspect of addiction is that you can easily connect the drug to its effects. You use a substance and you feel good. If your brain doesn’t associate the substance with the good feeling, your brain won’t crave the substance. Therefore faster acting substances are typically more addictive.
They’re shorter acting.
A shorter acting drug has a faster cycle. You take it, you feel good, the drug wears off quickly, you feel bad, and you want to take it again. This is why, for example, crack is more addictive than cocaine. The very short high–maybe 10 minutes–leaves you wanting more right away. Not only is the drug itself rewarding, but the crash after it wears off leaves you feeling depressed and irritable. Other drugs like heroin have much more intense withdrawal, which makes quitting difficult. Relief from those symptoms becomes reinforced more quickly when the cycles are shorter and more frequently repeated.
They’re more potent.
The stronger a drug is, the more likely you will want to use it again. This is partly because it’s pleasurable and partly because addictive drugs evoke a strong dopamine response. Dopamine is involved with goal-directed behavior, so the more strongly a substance evokes that response, the more likely you are to seek more. This is one reason Vicodin, for example, is more addictive than codeine. The drugs are chemically similar, Vicodin is much more potent. It is also the reason women are more likely to become addicted to alcohol. Although men typically drink at higher rates than women, women are more likely to become addicted because they metabolize alcohol more slowly, effectively making alcohol more potent for them.
They’re delivered more directly.
The easiest way to make a drug more potent and faster acting is to deliver it more directly. A drug you inject is going to be more potent and faster acting than a drug you smoke or swallow. OxyContin, for example, was supposed to be less addictive because it was taken orally and released slowly. However, people soon discovered that you could crush it up and inject it for a strong high.
They’re easily acquired.
The most addictive substance in the world won’t hook you if you can’t get it. To be really addictive, you have to be able to acquire it relatively easily, at least at first. This is one reason alcohol is so hard to quit. Drinking is common in our culture and alcohol is hard to avoid. Substances like crack and methamphetamine are cheap and easy to get, while the opioid epidemic has been fueled by massive overprescription of opioid painkillers.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or mental illness, we can help. Recovery Ways is a premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located in Salt Lake City, Utah. We have the resources to effectively treat a dual diagnosis. Our mission is to provide the most cost-effective, accessible substance abuse treatment to as many people as possible. Request information online or call us today at 1-888-986-7848.