Why Is It So Hard to Stop Using Drugs? - The Meadows Outpatient

Why Is It So Hard to Stop Using Drugs?

It’s probably the No. 1 question we hear from family members or loved ones of those with a substance use disorder: Why is quitting drugs so hard? It would be great if there was a simple answer. Both biological and psychological factors play into the “why” questions of drug addiction. Not only does your brain chemistry change when using drugs, but there are the underlying causes of why the drug usage started in the first place. In order to break the cycle of addiction, both factors need to be addressed together.


Your brain is made up of trillions of complex circuits that work together as a team to make you, well, you. Without the interconnection of these circuits, you wouldn’t be able to breathe, move, talk, or live your life. Neurons send signals back and forth to each other through the brain and spinal cord, creating an information highway.

Not all drugs can mimic neurotransmitters, but ones like cocaine and meth can release exceptionally high amounts of confusing signals, causing many problems for the user.

When drugs enter the mix, they interfere with that information highway, says the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Naturally, neurotransmitters activate the neurons, sending the info your brain needs. But to someone using heroin or marijuana, for example, these drugs can activate neurons on their own by mimicking neurotransmitters. This means abnormal messages get sent throughout the network. Not all drugs can mimic neurotransmitters, but ones like cocaine and meth can release exceptionally high amounts of confusing signals, causing many problems for the user.

The Brain Effect - The Meadows Outpatient

When your prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain that allows you to think, problem-solve, and make decisions — is affected by drugs, it becomes easier to use again because your impulse control has been reduced. The extended amygdala becomes more sensitive with each use and creates unpleasant symptoms if using is stopped. The brain stem which controls breathing, heart rate, and sleeping are also affected. In other words, your body can become extremely uncomfortable when you stop using drugs. What’s more is most drugs light up the pleasure areas of the brain like a Christmas tree. Giving up that high can be incredibly difficult for most people, but not impossible.


Overcoming drug dependence on your own is already a challenge in its own right. But when outside influences push you further into your drug addiction, quitting drugs is all the more difficult. Unfortunately for many users, certain social and environmental factors continue to perpetuate their drug use.

For starters, the people in our lives can have a major impact on our propensity towards substance use. When our friends are consuming drugs, we may feel pressured to take drugs ourselves to find acceptance from our peers. This can especially happen to young drug users, as 21% of teens have tried drugs at least once due to peer pressure, shares the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Yet our own family members can also heavily influence drug use, as children who grow up around drug-using parents are more likely to use drugs themselves. 

Even if you’re not directly encouraging your loved one’s drug addiction, your behaviors may be enabling them to continue their substance misuse. It can be easy to ignore or tolerate drug use to avoid any relational conflict, for example. You may even be tempted to cover up their drug addiction (or blame others for it) to shield them from any consequences. Yet these actions only keep their addiction further entrenched. 


Those who suffer from a substance use disorder have most likely also suffered from one or more mental health problems which led them to drug use. These problems which are mostly associated with abuse can range from anxiety to personality disorders. Patients also have often experienced some form of trauma in adulthood or childhood. Left untreated, this residing pain can lead to a numbing out of sorts, given their inability to handle the internal experiences of their own mind.

Marijuana and alcohol operate as depressants that temporarily help soothe the pain and create a false sense of escape from life.

Marijuana and alcohol operate as depressants that temporarily help soothe the pain and create a false sense of escape from life. However, the numbing doesn’t work for very long because the body builds up a tolerance to the amount of drugs used, leading you to use more and more to reach the same high. This can lead to emotional and physical damage. On top of this, many users struggle with suppressed feelings returning during breaks, which sends them back to using again.


If you or your loved one is wanting to overcome drug dependency, simply quitting cold turkey isn’t a very viable or safe option. In fact, one of the biggest recovery challenges early on is the drug cessation phase. 

After prolonged drug consumption, you can develop both a physical dependency and a psychological addiction to the drug. As a result, you can experience both mental and physical withdrawal reactions when you stop using drugs as part of your addiction recovery. According to VerywellMind.com, these drug withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in mood
  • Chills or shivering
  • Congestion
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting

Depending on the drug and its frequency of use, withdrawal symptoms can be not only unpleasant, but severe in some cases as the body adjusts to the drug’s absence. That’s why a drug detox under medical supervision is often a necessary component of the early addiction recovery phase to keep you or your loved one safe during withdrawal. 

Because of its range of symptoms, drug withdrawal makes quitting drugs a difficult commitment. When you’re struggling with withdrawal symptoms, it often becomes too tempting to revert back to your old ways and succumb to your drug cravings just to find some relief, causing the addiction recovery process to stop before it ever really starts. 


Most people with addiction issues don’t ask for help until the pain of continuing to use becomes greater than the pain of taking action to get sober. Drugs may help with the pain for some time, but they do stop working at some point. If someone you love is struggling and ready for help, there are several steps you can take to support them in their journey. You can drive them to drug addiction treatment, visit when permitted, get support for yourself through individual or marriage/family therapy or programs such as Al-Anon.


As you can already tell, overcoming drug dependence is hard. Consequently, a loved one experiencing a drug relapse or resuming drug use after quitting for a time, is actually a common part of the addiction recovery process. While it may be discouraging (or even scary) when it happens, a relapse doesn’t mean failure. Rather, a relapse can be a learning opportunity on the journey to sobriety. The experience can not only give you or your loved one insight into the people, events, or situations that triggered the relapse, but provide the spark needed to create a proactive relapse prevention plan and stay the course towards long-term recovery


Don’t be afraid to have the tough talks, explore the past, or ask as many questions as you need. Whatever stage of recovery you or your loved one is in, you’ll know you are loved and supported by your choice to get involved. If you or someone you know is looking for outpatient drug addiction treatment, The Meadows Outpatient Center has a variety of intensive outpatient locations across the country. These IOP campuses allow you to continue work, school, and home life while in treatment. We also offer MBH Connect, a virtual IOP program for residents in the same states as our outpatient centers. We treat both the biochemical and psychological aspects of addiction and introduce a life of peace on the road to recovery. Reach out today to learn how we can help you find freedom and healing from addiction and more.

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