Our List of the Top 10 Hardest Addictions to Kick
If you take a look around the Internet for a common addictions list, it is clear that some types of addictions are more common than others.
Substance effects on the brain
The top 10 addictions in the world include everything from cannabis to benzodiazepines to amphetamines. Other versions in America include so-called process addictions like gambling, food, and spending time on the Internet.
The list of the top 10 addictions in the world is not necessarily the same as the top ten worst addictions. Addictions are variable in how intense and quickly they take over. A list of the top 10 worst drug addictions can also include substances that may not be as common but are just as detrimental as any other illicit substance or detrimental activity. The hard addictions we are talking about in this list will usually require professional treatment for a successful recovery.
Trying to manage the withdrawal symptoms alone can even be dangerous with some of these addictions.
1. Alcohol is the Number 1 Addiction in the US
An estimated 30 percent of Americans have suffered from an alcohol use disorder in the past. That’s close to 100 million people. In 2010, nearly 18 million Americans were classified as being addicted to alcohol. Alcohol is the number one choice when it comes to substances of abuse and addiction. Not that anyone would choose addiction but when millions of people are abusing it, it becomes a common addiction.
Despite the fact that nearly 10 people will die every hour due to alcohol-related causes, how is it that there are so many alcoholics?
“Because alcohol is legal and often consumed in social settings, alcohol addiction is complicated. But as an addictive agent, it’s remarkably simple – and effective. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome are so severe that it can cause death, and its effects on the brain’s reward system cause well-documented and intense craving in heavy drinkers.”
~ The Fix
Not many people may think of alcohol as a particularly dangerous drug, but given the level of addiction in the US and its withdrawal effects, it is safe to say that alcohol is one of the worst addictions to kick.
Why is alcohol so addictive? Alcohol affects the brain. It is the ethanol within alcohol that causes chemical reactions in the brain. When alcohol is chronically abused, it will change the way the brain functions. It will begin to require the substance to feel normal. It is the chemicals in the brain that send messages which are affected. They are neurotransmitters, which tell the body what to do. Inhibitory neurotransmitters will help calm the brain down. It makes a person feel balanced and at ease.
Alcohol affects certain neurotransmitters that create addiction. They include:
This is the main neurotransmitter that is inhibitory. It reduces any excitability in the brain, making a person feel relaxed. Alcohol will increase how much GABA is transmitted. This inhibits the brain abnormally which is why we experience problems with motor skills and memory when we drink too much. This process occurs every time a person drinks. So when someone abuses alcohol for a long time, the brain will adapt to the increased inhibition. The chemical reaction in the brain causes tolerance to alcohol. This means a person needs to use it more to get the same effect.
This neurotransmitter is affected by alcohol also. Dopamine sits within the reward system part of the brain. It is released when we experience pleasure which includes the consumption of alcohol. Initial effects of alcohol like the euphoric feeling are pleasurable. The brain deems this rewarding the reinforces the process by releasing dopamine.
Alcohol will interfere with how the brain uses dopamine and it starts to inhibit the ability to feel pleasure. When alcohol is constantly used, it decreases the natural ability to produce dopamine. It is only with drinking that someone can feel happy. The withdrawal symptoms of drinking are challenging, and even deadly. Due to the change in brain chemistry, when you stop drinking, you may experience:
- Delirium tremens.
- Shaking and shivering.
- Irregular heartbeat.
- High temperature.
There are also external reasons people can easily become addicted to alcohol. It may be that alcoholism runs in the family, which makes a person more susceptible. Societal pressure may also play a part. Stress, mental health issues, peer pressure, and of course the accessibility are all reasons alcohol is the most common addiction.
2. Heroin May Be the Most Addictive Drug in the World
According to a professional panel, heroin is at least among the top five most addictive drugs in the world. It may not be the worst addiction to kick, but it is up there.
“Heroin hits the addiction trifecta: It causes the brain’s dopamine levels to increase by up to 200 percent, it causes brutal withdrawal symptoms and has a cheap street value.”
~ Samuel Osborne, writing for The Independent
As an opioid, heroin blocks pain and gives a feeling of euphoria. This is because the drug binds to opioid receptor cells. When heroin is used, the body converts it into morphine which gives a person a rush of pleasure and extreme relaxation. This is what causes people to use heroin over and over again. Once a person is chronically abusing heroin, the brain begins to adjust. This is known as tolerance where the brain gets accustomed to a higher level of opioids.
The user will then need more heroin to get the same high as before. The signs of dependence avoiding a sick feeling, restlessness, and shakiness. Stopping too quickly could include pain in the bones and muscles. The person may also experience:
- Cold sweats
- Runny nose
Why does this occur? The brain is trying to find a place of balance, attempting to restore normal levels of opioids. This is where the intense cravings for heroin will come from. Dependence quickly turns to addiction. The person will then use heroin uncontrollably, despite loss they will face. Severe cravings will occur when there is no heroin in the system. Heroin is a powerful drug that interferes with how your brain experiences pain or pleasure.
Not only is heroin one of the most addictive drugs in the world – it is also one of the most dangerous drugs in the world. Taking just five times a normal dose can become lethal, and heroin has a wide range of devastating physical and psychological side effects for users.
3. Cocaine is Still One of the Worst Addictions in America
There is no doubt about it: cocaine is not only one of the hardest types of addictions to quit, but also one of the worst represented in the United States.
While it may not be as popular as it was in the 1980s, around 1.5 million people continue to suffer from cocaine addiction in the US. Because cocaine boosts positive mood and energy, people using it recreationally or at work can easily become addicted to its effects. It is usually taken socially, which can make kicking the habit even harder.
Traditionally, our brain cells cycle will reuse hormones such as serotonin and dopamine. These neurotransmitters determine how we experience desire, motivations, pleasure, and reward. Brain cells send out signals usually and they’re taken up by receptors on that cell. Cocaine shuts down this normal process of the brain. It creates pleasure, feelings of desire, and behavior reinforcement. Dopamine begins to build up. Cocaine also alters serotonin levels which is what balances our moods.
Cocaine prevents dopamine from being reabsorbed, causing it to linger in the brain. This creates an intense feeling of euphoria. When the cocaine quickly wears off and the dopamine is absorbed, the brain isn’t capable of creating its own dopamine. This creates depression, exhaustion, and mood swings. If the user has more access to cocaine, they are likely to use it.
This is known as reinforcement.
It’s been found that cocaine addiction changes the genetics of a person which is what can lead to physical addiction. Cocaine activates genes that cause a reinforcement for taking the drug. There are also withdrawal symptoms that mentally and emotionally take their toll. The body will crave the drug to regulate one’s mood.
Cocaine starts to affect the brain in just a few seconds but the high is short. This creates a quick dependence on the drug. When a person injects or smokes it, cocaine travels quickly to the bloodstream and the brain. It will be a stronger but more short-lived high. Snorting cocaine is still short-lived but lasts a little bit longer.
4. Cigarettes Are Among the Top 10 Addictions in the World
Despite countless public awareness campaigns and anti-smoking laws, millions of Americans continue to struggle with addiction to the nicotine in cigarettes.
Multiple experts have rated cigarettes as one of the hardest addictions to kick. The drug may be legal, but it is still a drug. Cigarette use carries all of the telltale signs of addiction, including heavy cravings for nicotine to irritability when going too long without a cigarette.
The nicotine in cigarettes is as addictive as heroin. It changes the brain as it develops extra nicotine receptors to make space for the doses of nicotine. When the brain no longer gets the nicotine, withdrawal symptoms will occur. This can include anxiety, irritability, and strong cravings for nicotine.
The physical addiction to nicotine is due to how quickly it goes to the brain when inhaled. It causes a perceived temporary relaxation. Nicotine elevates a person’s mood and heart rate temporarily. The relaxation and elevated mood don’t last long which is when the body begins to crave another cigarette. Withdrawal symptoms set in quickly with nicotine. Imagine that many people will use 20 doses of this drug daily to get their addiction fix.
People will reach for a cigarette during times of stress believing that it will give them quick relief of anxiety. It can become an emotional crutch as well as a deadly addiction.
5. Dependence on Prescription Painkillers is One of the Most Common Addictions in America
There is no question about it: Americans are becoming increasingly addicted to prescription drugs. Prescription painkillers are included in this list of the top 10 worst drug addictions for several different reasons:
- There is a growing social acceptability for using (and even abusing) prescription painkillers.
- The vast majority of prescription opioids can be used to get high.
- Drugs like OxyContin and Vicodin can both create a sense of wellbeing and cause withdrawal symptoms – two hallmarks of drug abuse.
- Opioid painkiller has risen by 300%.
The increase of opioid prescriptions written is believed to play a major factor when it comes to addiction to opioids. Prescription pain relievers became the gateway drug to heroin which has caused a 45% increase of heroin deaths. The likes of Vicodin, Percocet, and codeine have the same effect as heroin. When a prescription is “cut off” from a person, they may turn to the streets to get heroin which is cheaper and easier to obtain.
The same effects that heroin has on the brain and body exist with prescription opioid painkillers. There is an intense high which varies depending on how the drug is taken. Prescription painkillers can be injected and snorted as people may abuse them. Opiates affect the opioid receptors in the brain. This gives them a variety of side effects.
Attaching to the opioid receptor causes the GABA chemical to release which is what controls the release of dopamine. The high is caused by flooding of dopamine to the brain, just like heroin. Muscles in the body relax as it’s sedating.
6. Methadone is One of the Hardest Drugs to Withdraw From
It is ironic that many addiction treatment programs use methadone to help people come off the withdrawal effects of hard drugs. While this may seem to solve the issue in the short-term, it only causes a different form of addiction. It is meant to be a tapering program where someone addicted to a harder opioid can slowly withdraw to avoid intense symptoms of abstinence.
Withdrawing from methadone can take anywhere from three to six weeks. Like with many hard drugs, it is not advisable to attempt withdrawing from methadone on your own. With over 5 million people reporting that they have abused methadone in the past, this is not an uncommon issue.
Methadone can cause a physical dependency even though it’s not as addictive as other opiate-based drugs. It does have a strong effect on the central nervous system so people will abuse it in an attempt to feel the euphoric high.
Methadone affects the same brain structures and function as any of the addictive opioids do. It is similar to OxyContin and heroin. Thought it does help people abstain from addictions to more dangerous opioids, it can’t be a cure-all for stopping drugs altogether. While a person is gradually taken off methadone, they should also be getting therapy. In this way, it can be effective. When someone abuses methadone, however, dependency can form.
For someone who takes methadone as directed, there will likely be no problem with methadone dependency. When it’s taken in larger doses to gain psychoactive effects, addiction is a real risk. Chances are, if you’re taking methadone, you have been addicted to other substances in the past which puts you at greater risk of becoming addicted to it.
Abuse includes chewing, snorting, or injecting the pills. The craving for the drug is psychological which means people may use it to deal with stress. Regardless of the negative consequences, they will continue to use it. A user will seek it out to stimulate the “reward center” in the brain.
7. Amphetamine Use is Turning Into One of the Worst Addictions
Amphetamines are a stimulant class of drugs that includes dextroamphetamines, amphetamines, and methamphetamines. When taken, they boost energy, mood, and confidence. They also help to suppress one’s appetite. They are used sparingly as a weight loss tool but the likes of Adderall are being prescribed to those with ADHD liberally.
This has turned into a relatively new form of drug abuse and addiction in the US. While many people seem to think that there are few consequences for abusing amphetamines like Adderall, this could not be further from the case.
With so many people being diagnosed with ADHD, drugs like Adderall are making it onto the streets. The medications that include amphetamines for those with ADHD work differently in the brain than they do of the general population. They are more addictive when abused by someone who doesn’t have the disorder. Due to the ease of being able to obtain these drugs is one of the explanations on why it’s one of the most common addictions in the U.S. today.
Amphetamines are synthetic drugs that are designed to stimulate the central nervous system. This is why people will have increased energy and some of the functions within the body go on supercharge. Their effects are similar to cocaine with a rewarding high. This is what makes them both physiologically and psychologically addictive.
Any kind of amphetamine is addictive but the most potent of the class is methamphetamines. They are the most addictive and not legal. It was developed recently from amphetamines, which were originally available in nasal decongestants. There is a difference between amphetamine and methamphetamine. The drugs are both central nervous stimulants that are similar in effect.
They’re structurally different compounds, however. Meth breaks down to form amphetamine when the body metabolizes it. Methamphetamine is a more potent high and also more addictive. While amphetamine is not as addictive as meth, it still has its risks.
Like other types of addictions, they are caused by body or brain dependency. Amphetamines pass through the blood-brain barrier and affect the central nervous system. It changes brain signaling and neurotransmitters are all affected. It affects the brain’s reward circuitry which can cause addiction. The person will feel a heightened sense of mental wellness. They will have more confidence and think more quickly. Many university students will abuse drugs like this so they can focus better and stay up late into the night.
8. Benzodiazepines Are One of the Worst Prescription Drugs for Addiction
As a sedative drug, benzodiazepines are one of the most dangerous prescription drugs to abuse. When used to self-medicate for anxiety or sleep, this class of drugs is highly addictive.
With over 40 million Americans suffering from anxiety and stress disorders, it’s no wonder that the benzos are one of the most common addictions. People facing clinical anxiety, stress, and panic attacks will often be prescribed benzodiazepines like Valium and Xanax. There are actually over 15 different kinds of benzodiazepine medications used for different medical purposes. This may also be an indication of why it’s so common for addiction.
They are used for anxiety, muscle relaxant, mild memory loss, and anti-seizure medication. There are also benzos that come in smaller doses for sleep disorders. No benzodiazepine should be used for a long time due to the high risk of addiction.
Benzodiazepines create surges of dopamine in the brain which causes a change in the dopamine-producing cells in the body. It is the pleasurable effects of these drugs that cause dependency.
Benzodiazepine use will deteriorate cells that rein in flooding of dopamine. The temporary surges of dopamine can cause even great dopamine surges. Researchers believe that benzodiazepines will build up in the body. They begin to alter the structure and function of brain receptors. It creates excitable surges and can make the dopamine rushes more intense.
When benzodiazepines are out of the system, the body isn’t able to produce enough dopamine so one can get quite depressed. This can easily become a part of an addiction cycle. Deciding to quit benzos on your own isn’t always easy. It’s also not advisable. Withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Pain and stiffness in the muscles.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Problems with sleep.
- Panic attacks and heart palpitations.
- Tremors in the muscles.
- Potential of seizures and psychosis for those on high doses.
Benzodiazepine abuse is also associated with many dangerous physical side effects, especially if the addiction goes unaddressed. Most professionals recommend medical detox for withdrawing from these strong drugs, which makes it one of the worst addictions to overcome.
Researchers found that the addictive nature of benzos is very similar to opioids, cannabinoids, and GHD. All of these substances have extreme addictive qualities.
The chemical actions that occur within the mind cause people to become dependent. They quickly progress on dosages and this abuse become addiction quickly. Tolerance will usually develop around the 6-month mark or sooner. As one of the worst addictions, it’s believed that at least 44% of people who use benzodiazepines will become dependent on them.
9. Crystal Meth Makes for One of the Strongest Addictions
Crystal meth is a man-made central nervous system stimulant drug with a high addiction rate and a long-lasting detrimental effect on your brain and body. This makes it one of the top 10 worst drug addictions to deal with.
Once someone becomes addicted to crystal meth, it is usually extremely difficult (but not impossible) to quit the drug on his or her own. Instead, the vast majority of addiction experts recommend formal addiction treatment. Both the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the DEA have reported that meth is highly addictive. It is associated with many severe consequences to the body as well.
When taking meth, it results in large amounts of norepinephrine and dopamine (as well as other neurotransmitters) to be released. This gives the user euphoric effects, more energy, feelings of invincibility, and psychoactive effects.
Research regarding the short-term and long-term effects of methamphetamine use indicates that there are a number of significant potential dangers associated with its use, including significant neurological effects. After 90 days of use, studies have found that meth users forget how awful the crash of meth feels. While there might be a sense of well-being and energy during the high, the crash can bring severe depression and exhaustion. This can create a chemical craving for the drug that can so quickly become an addiction.
Meth addiction can be quite common because it’s highly used with very little knowledge of the risks. It’s party drug that keeps clubbers up all night at first. Few people that take it really understand how they’re changing their brain chemistry. A meth binge can have an irreversible long-term effect on both the body and mind.
With so many people taking meth recreationally to improve their night or perhaps to love the weight, they are unaware of the power of its addictive nature. When someone does become a crystal meth addict, they will begin to crave the high. Some may believe they can’t experience joy without it or manage their life.
On a worldwide scale based on a 2009 study, meth is one of the world’s most addictive substances. It is number two behind cannabis.
10. Process Addictions: Gambling, Sex, and Food May Not Make the Hardest Drugs List, But They Are Among the Worst Addictions in America
While most forms of addiction are usually accompanied by withdrawal symptoms, this is not always the case. Behavior addictions (also called process addictions) can have all of the psychological and social consequences of addiction without exhibiting any physical symptoms of dependence at all.
Some of the most common process addictions include psychological dependence on gambling, sex, gaming, food, and even shopping. Gambling and shopping can actually raise levels of dopamine which is the exact thing that substances do.
We all engage in many different behaviors throughout our day. Some of our behaviors are life improvements. Eating is something we need to do and yet food addiction is something unhealthy and debilitating. Those with a food addiction will eat even when they’re not hungry and binge eat. They are wreaking havoc on their health but they have no control to stop. This impulsive type of behavior can contribute to physical and mental health issues.
We have chosen to include this form of addiction in our list of the hardest addictions for two reasons. First, people may be unable to stop the behavior even after facing negative consequences and, second, because the need for treatment for this form of addiction often goes unrecognized.
Factors of Addiction
Addiction to any drug can also be dependent on low family support, genetic makeup, mental illness, and environment. The path to addiction isn’t a straight road and it doesn’t happen right away with any of the drugs mentioned. A drugs effects might feel good to the user but that doesn’t mean every user will try the drug again or become addicted.
It is the repeated use which develops tolerance and then the dependence. The brain and body become dependent and it becomes challenging to stop. Addiction has taken hold of a person once they are fully aware that it’s causing them harm but continue to abuse the substance anyway.
Addiction Never Has to Be the Final Answer
These drugs are highly used and are some of the hardest addictions to kick, but that does not mean that it is impossible to quit. All of the most common addictions discussed in this list can be overcome with proper professional treatment.
Drug and alcohol rehab represent a hope for the future, no matter which of these worst addictions to overcome you are dealing with. You are given the support you need and therapy to help you gain a greater understanding of your addiction. You may choose to go with inpatient treatment or intensive outpatient treatment. Either way, you’ll be given the best chance of full recovery when you get professional addiction help.
It doesn’t matter if you are dealing with one of the hardest prescription drugs to quit or another one of the most addictive drugs we brought up here. Addiction treatment is the answer to getting you free from the negative effects of drugs and alcohol.
If you still have questions about our list of the top 10 hardest addictions to kick, or about our approach to drug and alcohol rehab, do not hesitate to contact us today.