How addictive is alcohol compared to other drugs?

Alcohol is a substance that affects the brain and body the same way that drugs do. It’s a socially accepted and encouraged drug, but a drug nonetheless. Millions of Americans abuse alcohol and drugs every year. With alcohol, it can be difficult to realize that you have a problem. Access to alcohol is easy to come by, and people don’t see frequent drinking as a huge problem. But how addictive is alcohol compared to other drugs?

The answer: Alcohol is one of the most addictive drugs in existence. Researchers estimate that it is more addictive than any drugs except for cocaine and heroin. Nicotine is the next most addictive drug, followed by meth.

How Drugs Affect the Brain 

Addiction is a medical condition that can alter your behavior and brain chemistry. The exact long-term effects depend largely on the substance that you use. Chemical dependency can cause difficult withdrawal symptoms, some of which might be life-threatening with alcohol. Substance use disorders occur when someone cannot control their use of drugs.

The biggest danger of drugs is that they affect the pleasure part of the brain. They make you feel euphoric, giddy, relaxed, or just happy. They affect the reward center, so you feel like something good has happened or you’ve just accomplished something.

When this process repeats itself, that can change the way that you take in information. The drug becomes associated with good feelings, and being off the drug is associated with bad feelings. If you abuse drugs for long enough, it will lead to your body becoming dependent on them to function.


Alcohol is an intensely addictive drug, and it is the most commonly used substance in the US by far. There is an entire culture built around the alcohol industry. Studies indicate that one in twelve adult Americans have problems with alcohol abuse.

There are a variety of things that make alcohol easier to access than other drugs, some of which include:

  • It is legal to purchase as long as you’re of age.
  • It can be found at liquor stores, grocery stores, and bars.
  • A large part of socialization and partying involves alcohol.
  • There are large alcohol companies that spend billions on advertising their products.

Alcohol influences the dopamine levels in the brain, which gives you a mood boost. At the same time, it depresses the central nervous system. It slows the activity in the brain. Your heart rate and blood pressure both lower. You feel sedated and have trouble with cognition.

People who use alcohol are more likely to take risks because the substance impairs your judgment and inhibitions.

Alcohol abuse leads to serious chemical dependency problems, especially in heavy drinkers. Withdrawal symptoms can start just a few hours after you have your last drink. They might start out mild, but they can become life-threatening within days.

This happens because the brain attempts to restore equilibrium after having its chemistry altered. In essence, the nerves that were depressed by the alcohol begin working overtime. That can lead to nausea, vomiting, agitation, seizures, and hallucinations.

When people want to avoid alcohol withdrawal symptoms, they might continue drinking alcohol to stave them off. This leads to a vicious cycle in which a person becomes more and more dependent upon alcohol.

Other Drugs 

The only drugs that are more addictive than alcohol are cocaine and heroin.

Cocaine is a stimulant that is created using coca plants. It causes a serious high because it increases your dopamine levels. These neurotransmitters are responsible for feelings of pleasure. Effects come on fast and intense, but they don’t last long.

A person on cocaine will feel more euphoric, alert, and excited. People often binge cocaine and stay up for days at a time. When they feel the first dose start to wear off, they do another. And then when the person finally crashes, they experience all of the exhaustion that they’ve been putting off.

Heroin is an opioid that is similar in many ways to prescription opioid painkillers. Many people begin using heroin after getting hooked on opioid painkillers and then being unable to afford them. The drug helps to reduce pain and make you feel more relaxed. It also leads to greater dopamine levels.

Heroin is an incredibly dangerous drug because of the risk of overdose. Thousands of Americans die every year from heroin overdoses.

To get help with an alcohol or drug detox today, call one of our trained counselors at 302-842-2390.

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