The Hardest Drugs to Quit — And Tips on How to Do It

In 2014, a national survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration revealed that regular illicit drug use for individuals age 12 and older was on the rise from previous use. This research showed that 10.2 percent of Americans had used illicit drugs, mostly marijuana and the misuse of prescription pain relievers, in the 30 days preceding the study. The results of this study also showed heavy alcohol use was similar to past years, while tobacco use dropped slightly.


In addition to obtaining information concerning past drug and alcohol use, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration developed a series of evaluation questions concerning drug and alcohol substance abuse. A substance abuse disorder is characterized by regular misuse of alcohol or drugs, which imposes consequences on the social life, physical health and mental health of users and those close to them.

The responses to their questions determined an estimated 21.5 million Americans over the age of 12 suffered with a substance abuse disorder in 2014, with two thirds of the respondents having alcohol substance abuse problems and one third illicit drug use problems.

Reasons Behind the Hardest Addictions to Beat

If you have struggled with or currently struggle with a substance abuse disorder, or an addiction to alcohol and addictive drugs, you know better than most why the numbers of this survey are as high as they are. Drug addictions are incredibly hard to overcome. The combination of how drugs make you feel during use and the difficulties of withdrawal, along with contributing mental health, physical health, and lifestyle, all work together to create the factors that make saying goodbye to a drug so difficult.

The fact of the matter is that some drugs have unique characteristics that make them the hardest drug addictions to overcome. The National Institute on Drug Abuse and the University of California, San Francisco, worked together to determine what it is that makes one drug harder to quit than others.

It determined that five questions played a role in a person’s ability — or inability — to overcome their addiction to certain drugs:

  1. When you discontinue use of a drug, how severe are your withdrawal symptoms?
  2. To what extent does a specific drug reinforce your use again and again?
  3. What level of tolerance is created after consistent use over a particular period of time, or to what extent does the dose need to be increased in order to achieve the same effect?
  4. How difficult is it for you to quit and how many initial users eventually develop a dependency?
  5. What level of intoxication is produced by your typical use of the drug?

In addition to the factors above, personal, mental and physical health circumstances all play a role in the level of difficulty experienced when you attempt to overcome an addiction.

What are the hardest drugs to quit? We will answer this question by examining the hardest drug addictions to quit and what — precisely — makes each drug among the hardest to overcome. We will also share tips to help you successfully kick a substance abuse disorder for good.

What Drug Addictions Are the Hardest to Quit?

Each addictive drug has its own unique characteristics that influence how you feel during use, as well as how you feel when you discontinue use. The chemical makeup of a drug works together with individual circumstances to create an addiction after a habit of regular use is developed. Some drug addictions have been found to be harder than others to overcome because they actually teach your brain to crave the drug.

Here’s a list of the hardest drugs to quit:


This drug is an opiate that mimics endorphins in the body. When you use heroin, you can experience increased pleasure and reduced pain. The areas of your brain responsible for processing reward and learning are filled with opioid receptors, causing your brain to become hooked extremely quickly.

Heroin is largely considered the most addictive drug in the world, with nearly one quarter of those who try heroin once becoming an addict. In a recent survey of medical professionals, heroin stood out as the most addictive drug when compared to alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, marijuana and cocaine taken nasally.


It is estimated that over a quarter of a million Americans are being treated for heroin addiction. If you stop using heroin, your withdrawal symptoms may include the following:

  • Severe anxiety
  • Muscle spasm
  • Insomnia
  • General unwellness

Crack Cocaine

Crack cocaine has a similar chemical makeup to powder cocaine, but crack cocaine is processed and can be smoked, which creates a more intense high in less than half the time. Because crack cocaine creates such an intense high and is easily smoked, it is a highly addictive drug.

Each time you use crack, you build a tolerance to the drug. If you continue smoking the same amount of crack, you’ll never experience that “first high” again. This causes most addicts to increase their crack use over time, further reinforcing their addiction.


A 2008 report revealed that almost 1.5 million individuals abused crack cocaine or had a dependence on it in the United States. The severity of withdrawal symptoms vary greatly, depending on length of use and dosage used. The most typical withdrawal symptoms of crack cocaine include the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Motor impairment
  • Chills
  • Irritability
  • Vivid dreams
  • Depression


Even though nicotine doesn’t cause a high similar to crack or heroin, it does mimic the neurotransmitter acetylcholine once it arrives in the brain. Because this neurotransmitter plays a big role in regulating many vital activities, once you develop a dependency to nicotine, you struggle to perform everyday activities without smoking.

Because nicotine affects the brain in this way and is easy to obtain because it’s legal, it has become the third most difficult addiction to overcome. The U.S. National Library of Medicine reports an estimated 50 million Americans currently addicted to nicotine.

An estimated 35 million individuals with a nicotine addiction attempt to quit each year, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Unfortunately, around 85 percent of people who try to quit will fail.


If you have a nicotine addiction and try to quit, the withdrawal symptoms typically include the following:

  • Cravings
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Headaches
  • Increased appetite
  • Weight gain


In hospital settings, this legal drug is used to help heroin addicts keep their cravings under control and manage their withdrawal symptoms. As this is an incredibly potent drug, you can quickly develop a dependency. It isn’t uncommon for a heroin or painkiller addiction to be replaced by a methadone addiction.

Eventually, many methadone addicts resort to acquiring the drug illegally on the streets, and they may begin using heroin or painkillers again after they develop a tolerance to methadone. Methadone addicts often continue use for years because they want to avoid the withdrawal symptoms, which include:

  • Anxiety
  • General body pain
  • Chills
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Depersonalization
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Nausea

Crystal Meth

This synthetically produced drug mimics the effects of both dopamine and norepinephrine in your brain, stimulating the reward and alertness responses in the brain. The unique chemical makeup of crystal meth causes your brain to rapidly develop a dependency to the drug. Meanwhile, the drug actually damages the neurons of your brain and intensifies your cravings for the drug.


The National Survey of Drug Use and Mental Health revealed that 1.2 million adults had used crystal meth within a year of responding to the survey. If you are a chronic user of meth, you may begin to experience severe symptoms including:

  • Insomnia
  • Violent tendencies
  • High anxiety
  • Psychosis

The withdrawal symptoms associated with discontinuing use of crystal meth include an extreme increase in appetite, fatigue and an inability to experience pleasure.


According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, alcohol is the most prevalent drug among individuals over the age of 12. It can be legally obtained and consumed after the age of 21. It isn’t uncommon for people to underestimate the potential for becoming addicted to this substance. Alcohol acts as a depressant of the central nervous system. While intoxicated, people experience a decreased fear of rejection and increased pleasure and social confidence.

There are believed to be more than 17 million individuals in the United States who a struggling with alcohol abuse. Because of the effects alcohol has on the central nervous system, withdrawing can be fatal. If you or a loved one wants to overcome an alcohol abuse disorder, you should seek the help of a medical professional to safely withdrawal.


Powder Cocaine

Powder cocaine is typically snorted, producing a powerful high within 15 to 30 minutes of consumption. Cocaine has a unique effect on the brain, blocking dopamine from being reabsorbed by the areas of the brain responsible for processing reward. Over time, the brain decreases the dopamine receptors in the reward center, which causes increased cravings of the drug.

Fortunately, it is believed that the drug does not destroy the neurons in the brain that release dopamine, which makes it less addictive than other illicit drugs. However, it can be quickly consumed through snorting, so it creates a short high. This causes most users to quickly develop a tolerance, which is why powder cocaine is among the hardest drug addictions to overcome.

Fifteen percent of the population experimented with cocaine at least once in their life, according to a 2008 study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.



If you’ve developed an addiction to benzos, it probably began through a legal prescription to these anti-anxiety medications. While taking the prescribed drug, perhaps Xanax, Valium or Klonopin, many people develop a dependency. Doctors suggest anyone taking these drugs slowly wean themselves because quitting cold turkey could cause anxiety, panic addicts or irritability severe enough to cause relapse.

If the addiction becomes severe enough, many people find ways to illegally obtain benzos. Abusing benzos can be incredibly dangerous. In fact, serious illness or death can result from overdose or mixing them with other drugs and alcohol.

Tips for the Hardest Addictions to Beat

If you are facing an addiction to any of the drugs listed above, know that there is hope for your recovery. No matter the drug you are dependent on, sobriety is always within reach. Your addiction is an illness, and it should be treated as such. A medical professional can help you get started on your road to recovery, assisting your through detox and connecting you with therapy and support.


A healthy and happy future in recovery is yours for the taking, so continue reading for 10 tips for successfully overcoming your addiction.

  1. Take an Honest Look at Your Addiction – Whether you have struggled with addiction for years or only over the last several months, the drug you use could be distorting your perception of reality. While using, you may be unaware or in denial about your addiction’s effect on your life.Begin your recovery with an honest look at your addiction. Ask yourself the following questions:
    • How often and how much am I consuming?
    • Do I prioritize my addiction over my responsibilities and relationships?
    • Have my relationships suffered since I began using?
    • How has my work performance been affected by my addiction?
  2. Prepare for Change – If you want to succeed in overcoming your addiction, you need to plan for your recovery. Choose a multi-faceted approach to your treatment, seeking out professionals who will address your medical needs during and after detoxing, while also assisting you in finding treatment for the possible mental health issues that caused or resulted from your addiction.
  3. Find Support for the Hardest Drugs to Quit – When someone develops a dependency on drugs, it isn’t uncommon for their friendship circle to change. You may have started spending time with people who support your habit or even use with you. Now is the time to find people who will support you in your recovery. Reconnect with family and friends who knew you before you began using and share your plan for overcoming your addiction. Ask them to be available when you need to talk or need company. Additionally, you can create a network of friends in recovery. A support group is a great way to meet people who understand your experience and will support you in your recovery.
  4. Be Open and Honest – As you begin your recovery, be open and honest with your social support concerning your recovery. You may have been isolated by your addiction, but now is the time to pull your friends and family close and share the challenges you are facing. Be open and honest with them concerning what you need from them during your most challenging times.
  5. Leave Negative Friendships Behind – Finding new friends won’t be enough for a successful recovery if you are still spending time with the people who supported you in your addiction. Share your recovery plans with them and then cut ties with friendships that don’t support it. Without a clean break, you will constantly be torn between your sober life and your old life of drug use.
  6. Take Care of Yourself – Support your recovery with consistent and healthy self-care. Eat nutritious foods, drink plenty of water and develop an exercise routine.
  7. Find Ways to Stay Busy – While in recovery, it is important to avoid becoming too bored. Find ways to keep yourself busy. Start a new hobby, find a job, locate a church to attend or give back by volunteering in your community.
  8. Learn Healthy Coping Skills – When life gets hard or you experience stress, you may notice your cravings intensify. If you coped with stress through drug use in the past, you will need to learn new, healthy coping skills for the future. Talk with your therapist for tips on handling difficult situations.
  9. Don’t Give Up – Remember your addiction is an illness. Don’t allow setbacks or failures to distract you from your recovery. While many people are able to successfully maintain their sobriety the first time, it is not uncommon to relapse before succeeding in recovery. If relapse happens, pick yourself up and start again.
  10. Get Professional Help – Don’t try to navigate addiction alone. Remember that many drugs have painful or even dangerous withdrawal symptoms and you will need help managing during detox. Speak with a medical professional concerning your plans for sobriety and ask them to connect you to professional support for recovery.
    10-AloneFor many, inpatient rehabilitation provides the best outlook for recovery because it provides many of the strategies listed above in one place. Along with medical assistance, rehabilitation centers are equipped with professional therapists who can help you address the mental health issues at play. Additionally, participants can find support through group therapy and engage in center activities that encourage a healthy lifestyle.

If you are facing one of the hardest addictions to beat, treatment may be the best option for you. Contact 12 Keys Rehab and start putting your life back together.

The Addiction Blog