I noticed that many drugs that cause dependence have the suffix word "-ine". For example: Caffeine, nicotine, benzodiazepine, methamphetamine, cocaine, and morphine.

My questions:

  1. Why do many of these drugs that cause dependence have the word "-ine" in them?
  2. What does "-ine" mean in a chemical?
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ It might be worth checking out en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alkaloid#Naming. $\endgroup$ Dec 24, 2021 at 18:00
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ Also check out things that end in "-ol." $\endgroup$ Dec 24, 2021 at 20:51
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Here are twelve substances, all starting from the letter A, that are not drugs : alanine, aniline, acridine, adenosine, alizarine, amine, anthocyanine, arginine, asparagine, aspirin, atropine, aspirine. $\endgroup$
    – Maurice
    Dec 24, 2021 at 20:52
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ Put succinctly, -ine is just a common termination for chemical substances in general. You're suffering from selection bias. $\endgroup$ Dec 25, 2021 at 0:04
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Maurice: To be pedantic, adenosine, aspirin, and atropine are drugs. $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    Dec 25, 2021 at 3:16

1 Answer 1


The suffix "-ine" is not necessarily a bad thing causing dependence, proline is just an amino acid and chlorine is a gas. So there must be another reason!

As per the Elsevier's Dictionary of Chemetymology

-in(e): ultimately derived from -inus (Latin suffix meaning belonging to or being similar to)

One can then immediately guess the ancient organic names of natural products, with a little knowledge of plant names. What is the botanical name of tobacco? Nicotiana tabacum, so a chemist or whoever extracted nicotine named it after deriving from tobacco plant.

The word coffee and hence caffeine are derived from Arabic. Its botanical name is Coffea arabica so one can guess that caffeine was derived from this plant.

Note the halogens form an exception and plenty of other common organic chemistry names in your list. Not all natural products are named after plants, it just could be a fictitious deity like morpheus. Get hold of a good dictionary and look up the word origins of each.

Addedndum related to the comments: This is not the reason that "-ine" was chosen to indicate nitrogen in medicines. The suffix "-ine" has a wider meaning. As stated, fluorine, bromine, iodine etc. have no nitrogen or compounds such as phosphine, arsine have no nitrogen at all. If you have access to the unabridged Oxford dictionary (>20 volumes) they have full page on "-ine" and the original meaning of "-ine" is derived from, related to, therefore amine is from "ammonia" and "-ine". Divine is belonging to or related to God. In short, "-ine" is well beyond chemistry.

  • $\begingroup$ Makes sense. Cocaine is derived from coca plant. Except Methamphetamine is not a natural alkaloid and achieved by reduction of ephedrine. $\endgroup$
    – reinardhz
    Dec 27, 2021 at 5:01
  • $\begingroup$ This answer feels incomplete to me without addressing that many of the -ine names one is likely to see in the context of drugs result from the substances being *amines*/alkaloids, which is indeed related to the molecular structure as the OP suspected (-ine for this reason implies there is a nitrogen atom). $\endgroup$ Dec 28, 2021 at 4:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @electronpusher, I addressed your point. $\endgroup$
    – AChem
    Dec 28, 2021 at 4:44
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    $\begingroup$ Magazine must be a very addictive drug, as many scientists are abusing it very frequently. $\endgroup$
    – Poutnik
    Dec 22, 2022 at 14:24

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