13 Hardest Addictive Drugs To Quit and Remain Sober From!

According to the 2013 US National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), more than 24 million Americans over the age of 12 use illegal drugs.

13 Hardest Addictive Drugs To Quit

In this article, we will look at the process of addiction, and we'll cover the 13 hardest addictive drugs to quit, as defined by several scientific studies.

How Is Addiction Defined?

Being addicted to a drug is not just being physically dependent on it. It's not just experiencing physiological effects when you quit.

"Addiction" refers to compulsive behaviors that are hard to control, or even completely out of control, and often escalate in intensity and severity.

Legitimate health problems often result in physiological dependence on prescription drugs, but, when taken as prescribed, the individual's quality of life is protected, not turned upside-down.

However, when drug use promotes dangerous behaviors and escalating difficulties until an individual's life is out of control for the sake of taking that drug, then the term addiction applies.

What Happens in the Brain of an Addict?

Addiction dominates the life of an addict so completely that nothing will stop them from feeding their addiction. This is because the addict craves something based on a specific brain function called the reward system.

Research shows that normal, pleasant activities stimulate the reward system, causing the release of the chemical dopamine. Next, the brain encodes pleasant memories, motivating us to repeat those activities.

Addictive drugs gain their advantage over the user through this same reward system, stimulating dopamine production, influencing memory production at the moment of peak 'high,' and thus motivating the person to repeat the experience. Regardless of which drug, or what 'type' of 'high,' it is the stimulation of dopamine that generates the drug addiction.

With every subsequent use, brain circuits enabling the hijacked reward system become stronger and more demanding until the user is completely under the influence of this demand.

As tolerance builds for the drug, the user's reward system transforms into a demand system. As drug dosage is increased to exceed the new level of tolerance, normal dopamine levels are no longer recognizable rewards.

Thus, once pleasant activities become no longer important. Fulfilling the brain's excessive demand for dopamine is now the only important thing in the life of an addict.

13 Hardest Addictive Drugs To Quit 

Although every addiction is based on the need for dopamine generated by the addict's drug of choice, not all drugs are equally addicting. Based on a wide range of objective criteria in two separate studies, a list of drugs was rated from 0.0 (least addicting) to 3.0 (most addicting) by scientists from England and Amsterdam.

While not everyone agrees with all aspects of the list and/or ratings assigned, the following list includes the most up-to-date, scientifically researched results on the 13 most addictive drugs, from least addicting to most addicting:

Number 13 - Marijuana (Cannabis) - (Dependency Rating: 1.51)

Marijuana 13 Hardest Addictive Drug To Quit

Shocking Statistic: In 2009, marijuana was the number one drug of abuse for 61 percent of people under the age of 15.

Why is it listed? 
Marijuana produces dependence less readily than most drugs, but it is nevertheless addicting. The endogenous cannabinoid receptors in our brains, and central and peripheral nervous systems, can lead to addiction with repeated heavy use.

This accounts for up to 50 percent of daily heavy users. THC, marijuana's active property, is known for reducing pain, promoting relaxation, enhancing sensations, improving appetite, and reducing aggression. Although only nine percent of marijuana users develop an addiction, the prevalence of addicted users is due to the high number of users in our society.

Number 12 - Ketamine - (Dependency Rating: 1.55)

Ketamine 12 Hardest Addictive Drug To Quit

Shocking Statistic: Researchers found almost 75% of Ketamine users are aged 12-25!

Why is it listed? 
A prescription anesthetic used increasingly as a recreational drug, Ketamine is sometimes sold as 'ecstasy.' Ketamine produces a strange sense of detachment known as depersonalization and derealization.

At high dosages, abusers experience the "K-hole," a state of extreme dissociation with hallucinations. Smoking, snorting, or injecting Ketamine speeds up the high, but the short duration of effects encourages bingeing.

Tolerance builds rapidly, withdrawal symptoms can be severe, and cardiac emergencies can occur when used in combination with a wide variety of drugs.

Number 11 - Buprenorphine - (Dependency Rating: 1.64)

Buprenorphine 11 Hardest Addictive Drug To Quit

Shocking Statistic: Used to treat opioid addiction, Buprenorphine has created a new sub-population of opioid addicts because non-opioid-addicts abuse it.

Why is it listed? 
Used to help get off heroin and other opioids, many people transition to Buprenorphine and become addicted to it, too. Although often formulated with naloxone to negate the 'reward' effect on an opioid addict's brain, this is circumvented by increasing doses above the naloxone 'ceiling'.

Because Buprenorphine is a tool used to facilitate opioid detox, once someone is addicted to this drug, detox and withdrawal are extremely difficult.

Number 10 - GHB (Gamma Hydroxybutyric Acid) -(Dependency Rating: 1.30 - 1.71)

GHB 10 Hardest Addictive Drug To Quit

Shocking Statistic: According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network, 58 percent of GHB-related hospital emergencies happen to people aged 18-25.

Why is it listed? 
GHB is a naturally occurring brain neurotransmitter. Another prescription anesthetic 'party drug' often sold as 'liquid ecstasy,' synthetic GHB is increasingly implicated in 'date rape' and sexual abuse cases.

The 'high' produces euphoria and relaxation, and frequently leads to heavy daily use. Tolerance builds quickly and addiction is common. GHB intoxication is equally common, resulting in a short-term coma, and withdrawal is frequently severe.

Number 9 - Standard Amphetamines (Pure of Mixed Salts) - (Dependency Rating: 1.67 - 1.95)

Amphetamines 9 Hardest Addictive Drug To Quit

Shocking Statistic: Studies estimate that between 2-4 million children have been prescribed amphetamines, e.g. Adderall, due to a diagnosis of ADD or ADHD.

Why is it listed? 
Amphetamines are common stimulants of the central nervous system. Used recreationally at high doses for energy, mood, and social behavior enhancement, users quickly become addicted.

Euphoria occurs from the heavy release of dopamine, stimulating the reward system. However, tolerance builds quickly, leading to higher and higher doses, and harder and harder 'crashes' when the user tries to quit.

Number 8 - Benzodiazepines - (Dependency Rating: 1.83 - 1.89)

Benzodiazepine 8 Hardest Addictive Drug To Quit

Shocking Statistic: Between 2002-2007, US prescriptions for Benzodiazepines rose from 69 million to 83 million.

Why is it listed? 
Sedative-hypnotic drugs, Valium, Xanax, Librium, Ativan, and Klonopin are common Benzodiazepines. Acting on the GABA neurotransmitter in the brain, "benzos" decrease central nervous system activity, reducing anxiety.

The extreme relaxation that abusers feel at high doses makes this drug very addicting. Tolerance is built quickly, and quitting is extremely difficult because it leads to extreme anxiety - the primary reason for which users commonly start taking benzos. Withdrawal can be deadly without a controlled tapering off of these dangerous drugs.

Number 7 - Alcohol  - (Dependency Rating: 1.93 - 2.13)

Alcohol 7 Hardest Addictive Drug To Quit

Shocking Statistic: Nearly 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making it the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States.

Why is it listed? 
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant giving the drinker a sense of pleasure, increased social confidence, and decreased anxiety. Altering the brain's reward system through dopamine stimulation, this drug is easily addicting.

It's extremely dangerous because it negatively affects motor skills leading to traffic accidents and other hospital emergencies. Tolerance is built quickly leading to excessive consumption, and withdrawal can be fatal due to seizures.

Number 6 - Barbiturates - (Dependency Rating: 2.01)

Barbiturates 6 Hardest Addictive Drug To Quit

Shocking Statistic: In 2014, 1,493 hospital emergencies were due to Phenobarbital, despite being rarely prescribed.

Why is it listed? 
Barbiturates depress the central nervous system sometimes leading to anxiolytic and sedative effects, and sometimes more extreme anesthetic effects.

They are highly addicting due to their effect on the GABA receptors, producing dopamine-stimulated feelings of euphoria. This hijacks the brain's reward system, tolerance is soon developed, and this leads to increased use and higher dosages.

Number 5 - Crystal Meth (d-methamphetamine) - (Dependency Rating: 2.24)

Crystal Meth 5 Hardest Addictive Drug To Quit

Shocking Statistic: US government statistics show that in 2008 nearly 13 million people over age 12 have used methamphetamine—and 529,000 of those used regularly.

Why is it listed? 
A synthetic stimulant, Crystal meth floods the brain with excessive levels of dopamine - stimulating great euphoria, giving abusers the feeling they are powerful and invincible.

Quickly reversing moods, the user soon feels aggressive, irritable, and hyperactive. An easily addicting drug, tolerance is built quickly. Long-term use affects blood pressure, damages blood vessels, and is sometimes fatal. Withdrawal is more difficult due to the brain's heightened dopamine demand system.

Number 4 - Street Methadone - (Dependency Rating: 2.08 - 2.68)

Methadone 4th Hardest Addictive Drug To Quit

Shocking Statistic: From 1999 to 2005, methadone overdose deaths increased by about 460%!

Why is it listed? 
Similar to Buprenorphine (#11, above), Methadone is commonly used for opioid replacement therapy. Because it is widely available, abusers often transition from heroin or another opioid to street methadone.

Replicating the opioid 'high' of extreme euphoria and relaxation, this analgesic drug is highly potent and addicting, stimulating excessive production of endorphins and dopamine. Hoping to avoid extreme withdrawal symptoms from one opioid, however, is not a good reason to switch to an equally addicting opioid replacement.

Number 3 - Nicotine (Tobacco)  - (Dependency Rating: 2.21 - 2.82).

Nicotine 3 Hardest Addictive Drug To Quit

Shocking Statistic: Cigarette smoking in the US kills over 480,000 people per year, or nearly 1,300 deaths every day.

Why is it listed? 
Nicotine is a very potent stimulant, directly effecting cholinergic receptor activity, epinephrine production, and dopamine stimulation. A slight euphoria accompanies tobacco smoking, which quickly loses effect through desensitization.

Nicotine reduces monoamine oxidase activity, leading to less dopamine reception. Research indicates that nicotine hijacks the brain's reward system as strongly as heroin or crack cocaine, demanding the addict to smoke more and more frequently to feel satisfied.

Neurochemistry changes in the brain can take many months of withdrawal to finally repair. Although more and more smokers in the US are quitting, nearly 20 percent of annual deaths are due to tobacco products.

Number 2 - Crack Cocaine - (Dependency Rating: 2.82).

Crack Cocaine 2 Hardest Addictive Drug To Quit

Shocking Statistic: In 2010, 23 percent of eighth graders, 32 percent of tenth graders, and 45 percent of twelfth graders reported that crack cocaine was "easy" or "fairly easy" to obtain.

Why is it listed? 
Smoking crack cocaine delivers its effect to the brain quicker than snorting. A lot of dopamine floods the brain, giving an extreme sense of pleasure and stimulation.

The 'high' lasts only 10-15 minutes, but is so rewarding that abusers are motivated to do it again. Also, when the high wears off, the 'crash' is painful, leading to more motivation to use again. Addiction and tolerance build very quickly and the brain's hijacked reward system throws the addict pitilessly into the downward spiral of destructive behavior.

Number 1 - Heroin - (Dependency Rating: 3.0)

Heroin 1 Hardest Addictive Drug To Quit

Shocking Statistic: Between 2002 and 2013, the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths nearly quadrupled, and more than 8,200 people died in 2013.

Why is it listed? 
A central nervous system depressant, when heroin is ingested, it converts into morphine producing a significant psychological and physical high, flooding the brain with dopamine-stimulated euphoria. People addicted to prescription painkillers are increasingly transitioning to street heroin because it is easier and cheaper to get. 

Heroin is the king of the hijacked reward system, decreasing the addicts' ability to tolerate discomfort as quickly as tolerance to the drug builds. Fear of pain drives the demand system more strongly than desire for dopamine, often driving a strong fear of withdrawal. However, heroin detox is easier than most people realize.

Don't Fall Into the Trap!

Scientists are currently studying the long-term effects that drug addiction has on the brain. Cravings can occur long after detox and withdrawal are complete, upsetting the newly established stability of people battling drug addiction.

This is because the memories encoded by the hijacked reward system are similarly long-lasting as all other memories. The tiniest memory can set off a chain reaction transforming the reward system once again into a drug demand system, years after successful drug rehab.

However, as more information about addiction's effect on the brain is understood, more people are successfully fighting their addiction. If you or a loved one is a recovering drug addict, this knowledge may be very helpful.

A craving can now become a strong cue to seek out support. This is the right time to attend a 12-step meeting or seek out a compassionate counselor. Now you can recognize that craving as just an old, bad memory. Move away from that trap before falling back into it!

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Marco Sterling

I am a former mid-level advertising executive who had the unfortunate experience with drug and alcohol abuse. My experience nearly ruined my life, but in going through that I realized how precious life really is. My aim is to help many people that are going through what I went through and I hope you find the value in the resources provided through this site.