It goes without saying that no addiction is easy to kick. The very nature of addiction suggests that an individual can fall under the thrall of a substance or behavior that is causing them harm. And there are many things to which an individual can become addicted that can cause them profound harm. Although there are many behaviors that can be addictive, more often than not when we think about addiction, we associate it with alcohol and drugs, which have become a major threat to contemporary society. All drugs are addictive, dangerous, and difficult to overcome, but some have been found to be even harder to quit than others. As such, the following are the six most challenging and addictive drugs to overcome, presented in the order of increasing difficulty, with the final drug on the list being the most difficult drug of all to quit.
#1 – Alcohol
Although alcohol is the least difficult addiction to overcome on this particular list, it’s still considered one of the most serious addictions a person can have. Additionally, alcoholism is widely considered to be the original addiction as it’s by studying alcoholism that we came to attain a more enlightened, comprehensive understanding of addiction as a disease. Alcoholism is known for being particularly difficult to overcome because individuals who have been dependent on alcohol for a prolonged time will often be unable to quit drinking on their own; on occasion, abruptly ceasing alcohol consumption can cause such severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms—including hallucinations and a condition known as delirium tremens—as to even be life-threatening, which is why it’s strongly recommended that alcoholics seek treatment for their addiction and detox in a medical detox program under continuous supervision. Unfortunately, of the 23 million or more Americans who are estimated to currently be suffering from alcoholism, only about 10 percent, or 1 in every 10, seek and receive treatment.
#2 – Crystal Methamphetamine
Immortalized by the television show Breaking Bad, crystal meth is dangerous both because of its addictive potential as well as because of the process involved in its production. Crystal meth is a freebase form of methamphetamine, a very powerful, synthetic stimulant. This drug is produced in makeshift, homemade labs using household chemicals and over-the-counter cold medicines as primary ingredients. During production, volatile mixtures of chemicals make explosions quite common, resulting in disastrous injury or even death to the “cooks” who manufacture meth in their homes. Similar in effect to cocaine, crystal meth triggers a surge of dopamine that activates the reward circuit in the brain, but it also triggers a spike in the production of norepinephrine; due to the elevated levels of neurochemicals, individuals who use crystal meth will frequently go on binges for days at a time.
#3 – Methadone
Most individuals are familiar with methadone due to its use in methadone maintenance programs as a form of replacement therapy. Individuals who have become addicted to opioids like heroin or prescription painkillers can substitute those substances with methadone as a form of harm reduction; however, methadone maintenance is considered an effective, viable option because individuals with an opioid tolerance won’t experience much of an effect. Instead, the methadone simply prevents them from being either intoxicated or experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Unfortunately, methadone is sometimes sold on the street to individuals who abuse it, either taking it in excessive dosages or mixing the drug with other substances like heroin or benzodiazepines, which can result in a lethal reaction.
#4 – Nicotine
While it’s not considered a drug in the same way as others on this list, nicotine is certainly an addictive chemical substance that negatively affects one’s health and well-being. The National Institute of Health estimates that one out of every five deaths can be attributed to the effects of smoking cigarettes. Moreover, it’s been estimated that there are approximately 50 million smokers in the United States. Similar to other mind-altering substances, the nicotine in cigarettes triggers an increase in the production of neurochemicals in areas of the brain associated with the reward and pleasure circuits. Individuals who smoke cigarettes report doing so because it makes them feel relaxed and calm, but research shows that smoking significantly decreases brain functioning.
#5 – Crack Cocaine
The freebase, smokable form of cocaine is called crack cocaine and is considered significantly more addictive than cocaine, which is just below alcohol in terms of its addictive potential and difficulty to overcome. Crack cocaine offers many of the same effects as cocaine, but due to the route of administration—smoked in special pipes than individuals often make themselves using found or available materials—the effects are significantly amplified and even faster than powdered cocaine. However, as fast as the high comes on, it also fades rather quickly, coinciding with depleted levels of feel-good neurochemicals and immediately causing cravings for more of the drug. It’s currently estimated that about half a million Americans are currently addicted to crack cocaine.
#6 – Heroin
Considered to be the most addictive and difficult-to-quit drug that is currently known, heroin is a powerful narcotic that’s derived from the opium obtained from the opium poppy. It’s in the same family as morphine and codeine but is exponentially more powerful. Unlike drugs like cocaine and crystal meth, heroin mimics the body’s natural endorphins, which is a natural feel-good “drug” that overrides one’s response to pain and acts as a depressant, slowing down the body and its various processes. Due to its potency, quitting heroin often requires intensive rehabilitation, beginning with detox treatment and continuing through residential or inpatient treatment, followed by aftercare and continued participation in support groups and counseling. Heroin addiction has recently been classified as an epidemic by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and conservative estimates suggest that nearly 700,000 Americans are currently addicted to heroin.