Addiction to drugs or alcohol is a chronic disease that affects every aspect of your physical and mental health. Addiction also affects your relationships and behavior. Figuring out how to quit drugs and addictive substances isn’t necessarily easy because of the disease component.
While quitting drugs is challenging, it’s not impossible.
There is a wide range of drug addiction professional treatment options available, many evidence-based and proven effective. Mediations can be part of how to quit drugs, which we’ll explore more below.
Addiction is also called a substance use disorder. A substance use disorder includes the uncontrolled use of a substance, even when there are negative consequences. When you have a SUD, you may be very focused on using the substance to the point that it impacts your daily life and functionality.
Addiction and ongoing alcohol and drug use change your brain’s function and structure. Those brain changes are a big reason addiction is a chronic disease. Brain changes lead to the cravings that characterize addiction, as well as abnormal movements and behaviors.
We know from imaging studies that some of the brain areas affected by addiction include the parts that control judgment, learning, decision-making, behavioral control, and memory.
The symptoms of a substance use disorder can fall into one of four categories, which include:
- Impaired control: Cravings and strong urges, and an inability to stop using or cut back on the substance are symptoms of impaired control.
- Social issues: When you use substances, it can impact you at school or work, and you might give up other activities you once enjoyed as a result.
- Risky use: People with a substance use disorder might use the substance under challenging settings or do things they wouldn’t otherwise, such as driving under the influence. Part of dangerous use also includes continual use of the substance, even knowing it creates significant problems.
- Substance effects: The fourth general category of addiction symptoms is drug effects. Drug effects include building tolerance and needing more for the same effects, as well as withdrawal symptoms.
What Are the Hardest Drugs to Quit?
All substances are different, as is every individual.
In general, however, some of the most problematic drugs to quit include:
We don’t necessarily think of alcohol as a drug, but in reality, it’s one of the hardest addictions to kick.
Around 30% of Americans have dealt with symptoms of an alcohol use disorder. Alcohol is highly accessible and often seen as more socially acceptable than other drugs of abuse, which are reasons it’s such a common addiction.
Unfortunately, we don’t often see alcohol as being as dangerous as it is. Along with being highly addictive, alcohol also has the most dangerous withdrawal symptoms for some people.
Heroin is one of the most addictive drugs in the world, which when you’re initially using it can increase your dopamine levels by up to 200%, leading to an intense rush of pleasure.
Heroin is an opioid, and it creates euphoria along with blocking pain. Even a relatively small dose of heroin can be deadly, and there are many damaging physical and psychological side effects of using it.
When you use heroin, it activates opioid receptors. Those opioid receptors, during activation, also cause a flood of dopamine. The excessive levels of dopamine create a reward response that eventually leads to strong cravings that are part of heroin addiction. Cravings for heroin can be extremely overwhelming.
A stimulant, cocaine is a hard addiction to quit for many people. Cocaine creates behavior reinforcement and pleasure. Cocaine affects serotonin and dopamine, and that impacts moods. The high is short-lived, furthering the cycle of addiction and dependence.
Prescription pain medications like oxycodone and hydrocodone work on the brain and body in the same way as heroin. Prescription pain killer abuse and psychological dependence in the United States led to the opioid epidemic, a leading killer of over a million Americans.
Along with psychological addiction, prescription substance abuse creates a strong physical dependence, making it hard to stop using. Your brain chemistry is impacted by these prescription medications, leading to potential mental health issues.
Benzodiazepines are another class of potentially dangerous drugs used for sleep and to treat anxiety. Benzos include Xanax and Valium. When you take benzos from this class of drugs, you may develop dependence, and without medical supervision, withdrawal can be dangerous.
Methamphetamine is a stimulant linked to a binging and crashing pattern.
Also known as crystal meth or met for short, using this stimulant drug can lead to aggression, violence, and psychosis. Long-term meth use can cause brain damage and depleted dopamine levels.
There are also other effects of crystal meth, like panic attacks and an increased risk of a heart attack due to ongoing changes in heart rate. You can overcome an addiction to meth and rebalance your brain and dopamine level, but it takes time.
How to Quit Drugs Using Medication
What a lot of people don’t know is there are medications available that can help you overcome addiction and drug dependency, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The medicines available vary depending on the type of drug you’re dependent on.
Medication-assisted treatment became more relevant in alcohol and drug treatment programs as the opioid crisis worsened. MAT benefits include improved treatment outcomes and a better quality of life for participants in programs that use medication.
We should note something fundamental with MAT—it’s not the use of medicine on its own. Addiction is a highly complex disorder that relies on a combination of treatment approaches. Medication is just one part of drug addiction treatment and the recovery process. Treatment for long-term recovery also needs to include behavioral therapy and often lifestyle changes.
Medicines Used in Addiction Treatment
Some of the medications that are used as part of addiction treatment plans to improve the likelihood of a successful recovery include:
- Naltrexone: Naltrexone blocks the effects of opioids, including euphoria or feeling an intense high. The use of naltrexone can help prevent relapse, and sometimes it’s used in alcohol treatment programs as well, but less commonly.
- Buprenorphine: Buprenorphine is a medication that can help treat opioid addiction and dependence, including heroin and prescription painkillers. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, so it acts like other opioids but with fewer effects. The use of buprenorphine can help reduce severe withdrawal symptoms and cravings on the road to recovery.
- Methadone: Methadone is a maintenance medication for the treatment of opioid addiction and dependence. Methadone is somewhat controversial because some feel it’s replacing one addiction with another. The reality is that addiction treatment programs are focusing more on harm reduction now than strict abstinence, so whether or not methadone is suitable for someone depends on their circumstances. Methadone can help with physical withdrawal symptoms for someone struggling with heroin use disorder or other opioids.
- Disulfiram: The brand name of disulfiram is Antabuse. Antabuse is a medication to help treat alcohol abuse and dependence. When you take Antabuse, you will become very sick if you were to drink alcohol, so it’s a deterrent.
- Acamprosate: Available as the brand name Campral, this is one of the newest approved drugs for the treatment of alcohol dependence in the U.S. Campral can normalize some of the changes in the brain that alcohol may create. Campral also reduces some of the long-term withdrawal symptoms you may experience when you stop drinking, which can raise the risk of relapse.
If you’d like to learn more about quitting drugs, medical detox, support groups, or how medication-assisted treatment could help you in your recovery journey, please call 855-953-1345 to talk to the medical team at Opus Health. We can help you understand some of the options available to you. You don’t have to figure out how to quit drugs on your own.