Which Drug Really Causes the Worst Withdrawal & Effects?

Medically Reviewed

Throughout human existence, we have discovered new mind-altering substances that can cause addiction. Earlier in our history, we had little understanding of what addiction was, but today, we have a better grip on how to confront and treat the disease. The first step was to accept that this was not a choice but rather a disease that affects the mind. 

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction as a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, social and spiritual manifestations. It then goes on to say that addiction is characterized by the inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional response.

Drug abuse can start at any point in our lives, and it can affect people from any background. There is a story about a male doctor who began using drugs in medical school. He says, “I was never a drinker in high school or even college, nor did I use drugs socially.” He goes onto say that on one evening, he was having trouble staying awake for a chemistry exam, so he began taking pills to keep up with the increased workload. 

When he graduated, he wanted to be the best doctor. It was a title that he managed to claim, and he went on to become a physician in a thriving practice. With nearly unlimited access to prescription medications, he received a visit from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) inquiring about fraudulent prescriptions. He notes how the reality sank in at that point, and his shame was immeasurable. He ended up losing it all and went away to learn about his disease, and ultimately prevailed to regain his life as a doctor.

Often, those who begin using drugs don’t even enjoy using them anymore. They are more focused on avoiding getting sick during what is known as drug withdrawal. You may be wondering which drugs have the worst withdrawals? Some symptoms of drug withdrawal can be downright uncomfortable, whereas some can jeopardize your life. Suffice it to say, some substances are more addictive and dangerous than others.

While the use and misuse of specific substances are more dangerous than others, detoxing from these drugs can be risky as well. Below, we will explain the purpose of medical detoxification and highlight which drugs are known for having the most difficult withdrawals.

Addiction is a disease that has two sides — physical and psychological. To overcome the psychological part of dependency, the individual must overcome physical dependence, which is the primary purpose of detox treatment. When someone starts their journey in medical detoxification, they will reside in a facility which receiving care and being monitored around the clock by physicians and treating clinicians.

A detox facility is designed to ensure that the person going through treatment enters into a sober and stable mindset while avoiding the dangers that can present themselves during this period. When detoxing under the care of medical professionals, the client will have access to medications that ease some of the worst symptoms of withdrawal, making the experience manageable. The purpose of treatment is to rid the body of toxins and all foreign substances and help recovering users overcome physical dependency to begin treatment for psychological dependence.

Heroin Withdrawal

Heroin is considered to be one of the most addictive substances on this planet. We are currently amidst a drug epidemic of epic proportions; it is estimated that 130 people perish daily as a result of opioid drugs. Heroin is one of those drugs contributing to this crisis, but have you ever wondered why such a vast portion of society that uses this drug has so much trouble with cessation? Heroin withdrawals, while not necessarily deadly, are amongst the most uncomfortable symptoms someone can experience. It’s commonly referred to as the “worst flu you’ve ever had” when going through withdrawals.

Common heroin withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Agitation
  • Muscle aches
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Increased tearing of the eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Yawning
  • Sweating
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

As mentioned, withdrawal symptoms are not necessarily deadly, but because of symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting, it puts the individual at an increased risk to become dehydrated. To adequately deal with these withdrawals, which are amongst some of the most difficult to deal with, entering into a residential detox facility is strongly advised. It will help the individual avoid running to the drug to alleviate their withdrawals.

Alcohol Withdrawal

Silhouette of a girl with her back against a wall

Alcohol addiction is one of the most prevalent and earliest addictions that allowed us to gain insight into substance abuse. Alcohol is an extremely addictive substance, which makes it increasingly difficult for someone in the grips of alcoholism to give it up. Not to mention, it is cheap and easily accessible. You can drive down the street, see a billboard with your alcoholic beverage of choice, and immediately be triggered. To make matters even worse, alcohol withdrawal is among the worst and most deadly. Heavy drinkers are encouraged to enter medical detox because of life-threatening withdrawal symptoms that are experienced when frequent alcohol use stops.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Nightmares
  • Inability to think clearly
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Appetite loss
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Tremors
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Headache

Severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Agitation
  • Fever
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremens (DTs)

Alcohol withdrawal can be deadly, and because of this, you must not go through the process alone. Alcohol detox is among the most deadly of all substances on this planet.

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal

Similar to alcohol, benzodiazepine withdrawal can be equally as deadly. It is on par with alcohol to be one of the most deadly substances when it comes to withdrawal symptoms. The drugs work on the central nervous system (CNS) and affect the levels of gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. Upon cessation, the body can’t produce more on its own, which can lead to life-threatening symptoms. Benzos are strongly advised by doctors to receive immediate medical attention if you want to stop using them.

Benzo withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Tremors
  • Nausea
  • Palpitations
  • Seizures
  • Delirium tremens (DTs)

Crystal Methamphetamine Withdrawals

While crystal methamphetamine is not necessarily deadly during withdrawal, it is one of the most addictive substances on the earth. It is described as equally as addictive as heroin and has one of the most uncomfortable detoxes. Although it is not deadly, the symptoms can lead to suicidal thoughts, which could lead to death. Because of its stimulating properties, cessation of the drug can lead to severe lethargy, making life feel meaningless. Those who stop the drug must check into medical detox to receive antidepressant and antipsychotic medications to alleviate suicidal thoughts.

Crystal meth withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Extreme fatigue and exhaustion
  • Apathy
  • Lack of motivation
  • Disorientation
  • Paranoia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Psychosis
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Intense drug cravings
  • Increased appetite
  • Decreased sexual pleasure
  • Psychomotor agitation
  • Aggression

To best treat crystal meth withdrawal, which is one of the most challenging drugs to give up, addiction specialists advise you to enter into medical detox. While it’s difficult to gauge which drug is worse, in terms of ranking, all people will have different experiences based on various factors. It’s crucial to get yourself the help you deserve.

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