Risk of becoming dependent on drugs

Numerous myths perpetuate the belief that many drugs are instantly addictive and that the likelihood of becoming abstinent again is virtually zero.

There is no scientific information to support these beliefs. An American author, Stephen Stahl (2008), published some data on the probability of becoming dependent on a drug when it has been used once. His findings were as follows:

 Percentage of people becoming dependent

  • Tobacco 32%
  • Heroin 23%
  • Cocaine 17%
  • Alcohol 15%
  • Stimulants 11%
  • Anxiolytics 9%
  • Cannabis 9%
  • Analgesics 8%
  • Inhalants 4%

Other studies have shown that:

  • the risk of dagga dependence is 8% in the ten years from the first use.
  • the risk of becoming alcohol dependent ranges between 12% and 13% in the ten years from the first use.
  • the risk of becoming cocaine dependent is 15% to 16% in the ten years after first use. (Interestingly, 5% to 6% of the cocaine users actually became dependent within one year of using it for the first time.)
  • the risk of becoming nicotine dependent relates directly to daily cigarette use. It is mostly young adults who become nicotine dependent, although the risk continues into mid-life.
  • early-onset daily smokers have a seven times higher risk of becoming alcohol dependent, and an 11 times higher risk of becoming dependent on illegal drugs.
  • the highest risk of starting drugs and becoming dependent on them is in late adolescence and the early twenties.
  • the risk of becoming dependent on alcohol remains high throughout life.



This is an edited extract from The End of Addiction. Order your copy here.

(Health24, June 2010)

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