Overcoming Addiction: Which Substance is the Hardest to Kick?

header curve background image

Overcoming Addiction: Which Substance is the Hardest to Kick?

Overcoming addiction is hard regardless of which substance is involved.  While all addictive drugs are terrible to withdraw from, there are some that are more difficult than others. Listed here are the drugs often considered most difficult to kick once you’ve become addicted.

Overcoming Addiction to Alcohol

In a 2010 survey, 7% of the American population (17.9 million people) were classified as heavy abusers of alcohol or alcohol dependent (alcoholic). One of the reasons behind this high level of abuse is the fact that alcohol is a legal drug, so many users don’t perceive it as a dangerous drug as long as they are not drinking and driving.

While alcoholism is a severe problem in the U.S., many individuals use the term jokingly to describe a person who does not suffer this condition. There is a lot of confusion surrounding the term alcoholic. An alcoholic is an individual who feels he or she must drink and cannot control their drinking. An individual suffering from alcoholism will continue drinking beyond any safe level, and they’ll do this on a regular (even daily) basis.

Alcohol is both challenging and dangerous to withdraw from. This is due to the symptoms of withdrawal the alcoholic will experience when attempting to go “cold turkey.”

The last withdrawal symptom listed, delirium tremens, is a potentially deadly condition which most commonly occurs among those who have been addicted to alcohol over a period of many years.

Symptoms of Alcoholism

  • Headache
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight changes
  • Nervousness
  • Fever
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea, diarrhea, vomiting
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Heart palpitations
  • DTs

Symptoms of Delirium Tremens

  • Light, sound, or tactile sensitivity
  • Body tremors
  • Agitation, irritability, fear, excitement
  • Mood swings
  • Shorter attention span
  • Mental confusion and hallucinations
  • Deep sleep that can last over 24 hours
  • Restlessness
  • Irregular or rapid heartbeat
  • Temporary psychosis
  • Seizures, coma
  • Death

Because an individual who has delirium tremens can become dangerous to himself or others, can lapse into extreme periods of sleep and may suffer from heart problems or seizures, it’s important that they are monitored and treated by medical professionals. Part of their care is balancing electrolytes, ensuring they stay hydrated, and making sure any potential seizures or serious episodes are treated properly.


Benzodiazepines (“benzos”) are more commonly known by their brand name pills: Valium, Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan, Librium, Versed, Halcion, Tranxene, Serax, and many others. These anti-anxiety drugs were originally introduced to replace barbiturates as a “less addictive” option.

Benzodiazepines work by increasing the effectiveness of a calming brain chemical called GABA. An unfortunate consequence of using these drugs is that they rapidly cause the individual to become tolerant to their effects. Even when using the drug under the care of a doctor, the user will likely become dependent and suffer withdrawal symptoms if they try to suddenly quit or change medications.

It’s hard to get an actual count on the number of individuals who are abusing or addicted to benzodiazepines. This is major because a certain percentage of people have prescriptions for the drugs but are functionally addicted to them.  For these individuals, overcoming addiction is just as hard as overcoming addiction to illegal drugs.

During the seven years from 2005 to 2011, almost a million (an estimated 943,032) emergency department (ED) visits involved benzodiazepines alone or in combination with opioid pain relievers or alcohol and no other substances.

Another, more shocking statistic, is the number of benzo-related overdose deaths in the US. 30% of pharmaceutical overdoses in the U.S. involved benzodiazepines.

Benzo withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Recurrence of the original symptoms
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Muscle pain and stiffness
  • Tremors
  • Irritability, anxiety, panic attacks
  • Dry retching, nausea
  • Psychosis
  • Heart palpitations
  • Seizures, coma, death

Withdrawal from benzos must be made gradually. Rapid withdrawal when one has used benzodiazepines extensively can cause death.


Opiates are powerful pain-relieving alkaloids that are derived from the poppy plant. Some of the most common drugs of this class are morphine, heroin, opium, and codeine. One might think that heroin would be the hardest drug to kick, but some of the synthetic opiates, known as opioids, are often just as difficult to quit. The most physically dangerous opioid to quit is methadone. Methadone is used mainly in the treatment of addiction to opiates such as morphine or heroin. Someone who has been using methadone for an extensive period must not attempt to quit without trained medical supervision; otherwise, the resultant withdrawal symptoms can be fatal.

There are some different types of synthetic opiates (aka opioids) offered under prescription and sold illegally on the street or over the internet. These include Fentanyl, Oxyfast, OxyContin, Zohydro ER, Percocet, Targiniq ER, Lorcet, Vicodin, and Demerol. All of these drugs are addictive and are very difficult to withdraw from.

After alcohol and marijuana, prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications are the most commonly abused drugs by 12th graders, representing just one segment of the U.S. population.

One of the common reasons Americans choose prescription medications is that they are prescribed by a doctor and are thus considered “safe”. This can be the perception even when the individual using the drug is not the person to whom it is prescribed.

There has been a new trend emerging over the last year or two: When individuals hooked on prescription opioids have trouble finding pills or they can’t afford it, they are likely to try heroin due to the lower price and its availability. Once on heroin, physical and mental deterioration is accelerated.

Opioids are hard to withdraw from. Withdrawal symptoms one might experience when going “cold turkey” include:

  • Fever symptoms, cold sweats
  • Agitation, anxiety, depression
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation
  • Muscle and bone aches
  • Insomnia
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • High blood pressure

Many individuals can get through the toughest part of such withdrawal symptoms within the first few days of detox. This varies depending on what drug the person was taking and for how long. Medical detox procedures considerably reduce the number and severity of opiate withdrawal symptoms. Since unsupervised methadone withdrawal can be fatal, addicts are often eased off with lower and lower doses over a long period of time. In the end, it’s easier to withdraw from other opiates than it is to go through extended withdrawal from methadone. Regardless, certain precautions must be followed for the safety of the individual.

Professional Help

Other drugs are known as extremely addictive and require supervised detox. Cocaine is known for its severe level of psychological addiction. Methamphetamine withdrawal must be closely supervised due to its symptoms which can include hallucination and psychosis. When in the process of overcoming addiction, no matter the drug in question, it is always smart to consult with an addiction specialist when considering methods of detox. A medical approach offers a wide spectrum of options to facilitate detox that is as painless as possible. Once detox is accomplished, a thorough rehabilitation program should be done, preferably on an inpatient basis, to deal with the other serious physical, personal, mental and spiritual issues relating to drug addiction.

Learn more about overcoming addiction by contacting us today at our toll-free number.

Add Your Comment