The addictive potential of drugs
Drugs are potentially addicting to the extent that they produce a marked contrast between altered and drug-free psychic states.
A drug's addictive potential is determined by its ability to produce:
- a rapid onset of action
- a powerful euphoric effect
- a short duration of action
- tolerance and withdrawal.
The more that a drug has these features, the greater its addictive potential.
- Smoked crack cocaine enters the central nervous system within seconds, has an explosive effect on dopamine concentrations and wears off within 20 minutes – making it extremely addicting.
- Benzodiazepines have a much lower misuse potential than crack because they have a slower onset of action, provide only mild anxiolytic properties and wear off gradually over several hours.
- Nicotine is delivered to the brain within five to seven seconds of inhaling cigarette smoke, and over several hours when it is absorbed through the skin via a patch. The short time to peak effect of cigarettes makes them a far more addictive delivery system than the patch, even though the drug is the same.
Tolerance and withdrawal increase the addictive potential of a drug by making it difficult for a person to stop using it without experiencing discomfort.