An Addiction Science Network Resource

Hard and Soft Drugs—Position Statement


We feel that it is important to maintain the distinction between what are traditionally considered hard and soft drugs. In recent years this distinction has been blurred by the U.S. government in an attempt to discourage the use of “soft drugs” and to emphasize the government’s position that these drugs are really no different than “hard drugs.”  Furthermore, some people would consider the use of the term “soft drugs” to imply that no harm is associated with using these substances and to tacitly condone their use. We feel the distinction is important to realistically convey the relative risk of developing an addiction. This attribute is independent of any potentially adverse health-effects and does not address the sociopolitical issue of using any mildly psychoactive substance.



Traditional Distinction Amongst Drugs

“Hard Drugs”

“Soft Drugs”

Commonly Used Substances


ecstasy (MDMA)
diazepam (Valium)
most psychotherapeutic drugs1

alcoholic beverages
caffeine-containing products
nicotine-containing products
sugar-containing products

High addiction liability

Moderate to low addiction liability

Commonly used without apparent addiction2

Notes:    (1) abused in higher than therapeutically administered doses
(2) although problematic substance use can occur for all of these substances (e.g., alcoholism), these substances are also used by millions of people daily without developing an apparent addiction



Speed Kills . . .

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