What are drugs?
What is drug use?
Drug use, or misuse, includes:
- Using illegal substances, such as
- Misusing prescription medicines, including opioids. This means taking the medicines in a different way than the health care provider prescribed. This includes
- Taking a medicine that was prescribed for someone else
- Taking a larger dose than you are supposed to
- Using the medicine in a different way than you are supposed to. For example, instead of swallowing your tablets, you might crush and then snort or inject them.
- Using the medicine for another purpose, such as getting high
- Misusing over-the-counter medicines, including using them for another purpose and using them in a different way than you are supposed to
Drug use is dangerous. It can harm your brain and body, sometimes permanently. It can hurt the people around you, including friends, families, kids, and unborn babies. Drug use can also lead to addiction.
What is drug addiction?
Drug addiction is a chronic brain disease. It causes a person to take drugs repeatedly, despite the harm they cause. Repeated drug use can change the brain and lead to addiction.
The brain changes from addiction can be lasting, so drug addiction is considered a "relapsing" disease. This means that people in recovery are at risk for taking drugs again, even after years of not taking them.
Does everyone who takes drugs become addicted?
Not everyone who uses drugs becomes addicted. Everyone's bodies and brains are different, so their reactions to drugs can also be different. Some people may become addicted quickly, or it may happen over time. Other people never become addicted. Whether or not someone becomes addicted depends on many factors. They include genetic, environmental, and developmental factors.
Who is at risk for drug addiction?
Various risk factors can make you more likely to become addicted to drugs, including:
- Your biology. People can react to drugs differently. Some people like the feeling the first time they try a drug and want more. Others hate how it feels and never try it again.
- Mental health problems. People who have untreated mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are more likely to become addicted. This can happen because drug use and mental health problems affect the same parts of the brain. Also, people with these problems may use drugs to try to feel better.
- Trouble at home. If your home is an unhappy place or was when you were growing up, you might be more likely to have a drug problem.
- Trouble in school, at work, or with making friends. You might use drugs to get your mind off these problems.
- Hanging around other people who use drugs. They might encourage you to try drugs.
- Starting drug use when you're young. When kids use drugs, it affects how their bodies and brains finish growing. This increases your chances of becoming addicted when you're an adult.
What are the signs that someone has a drug problem?
Signs that someone has a drug problem include:
- Changing friends a lot
- Spending a lot of time alone
- Losing interest in favorite things
- Not taking care of themselves - for example, not taking showers, changing clothes, or brushing their teeth
- Being really tired and sad
- Eating more or eating less than usual
- Being very energetic, talking fast, or saying things that don't make sense
- Being in a bad mood
- Quickly changing between feeling bad and feeling good
- Sleeping at strange hours
- Missing important appointments
- Having problems at work or at school
- Having problems in personal or family relationships
What are the treatments for drug addiction?
Treatments for drug addiction include counseling, medicines, or both. Research shows that combining medicines with counseling gives most people the best chance of success.
The counseling may be individual, family, and/or group therapy. It can help you:
- Understand why you got addicted
- See how drugs changed your behavior
- Learn how to deal with your problems so you won't go back to using drugs
- Learn to avoid places, people, and situations where you might be tempted to use drugs
Medicines can help with the symptoms of withdrawal. For addiction to certain drugs, there are also medicines that can help you re-establish normal brain function and decrease your cravings.
If you have a mental disorder along with an addiction, it is known as a dual diagnosis. It is important to treat both problems. This will increase your chance of success.
If you have a severe addiction, you may need hospital-based or residential treatment. Residential treatment programs combine housing and treatment services.
Can drug use and addiction be prevented?
Drug use and addiction are preventable. Prevention programs involving families, schools, communities, and the media may prevent or reduce drug use and addiction. These programs include education and outreach to help people understand the risks of drug use.
NIH: National Institute on Drug Abuse
- Commonly Used Drugs Charts (National Institute on Drug Abuse) Also in Spanish
- Drug Addiction (Substance Use Disorder) (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
- Faces of Change: Do I Have a Problem with Alcohol or Drugs? (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) - PDF
- The Science of Drug Use: A Resource for the Justice Sector (National Institute on Drug Abuse)
- Understanding Drug Use and Addiction (National Institute on Drug Abuse) Also in Spanish
Prevention and Risk Factors
- Dealing with Drug Problems: Preventing and Treating Drug Abuse (National Institutes of Health) Also in Spanish
- Drug Use and Addiction: Prevention (National Institute on Drug Abuse)
Treatments and Therapies
- What Is Substance Abuse Treatment? A Booklet for Families (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) - PDF
- Drugged Driving (National Institute on Drug Abuse) Also in Spanish
- How to Identify Drug Paraphernalia (Drug Enforcement Administration)
- Take Action against Hepatitis C: For People in Recovery from Mental Illness or Addiction (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) - PDF
- Taking Medicines Safely after Alcohol or Drug Abuse Recovery (American Academy of Family Physicians) Also in Spanish
Health Check Tools
- Substance Abuse Screening (Department of Veterans Affairs)
Statistics and Research
- Behavioral Health Equity (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
- Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction (National Institute on Drug Abuse) Also in Spanish
- FastStats: Drug Overdoses (National Center for Health Statistics)
- FastStats: Illicit Drug Use (National Center for Health Statistics)
- Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
- Overdose Death Rates (National Institute on Drug Abuse)
- Research Topics: Treatment (National Institute on Drug Abuse) Also in Spanish
Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
- Article: Binge drinking and condom negotiation behaviours among adolescent girls and young...
- Article: The effect of mindfulness on decision-making, inhibitory control, and impulsivity of...
- Article: The effectiveness of cognitive bias modification in reducing substance use in...
- Drug Use and Addiction -- see more articles
- NIDA: News Releases (National Institute on Drug Abuse)
- What Are Bath Salts? (Nemours Foundation) Also in Spanish
- What Are the Signs of Having a Problem With Drugs? (National Institute on Drug Abuse)
- Helping Yourself Heal: A Recovering Man's Guide to Coping with the Effects of Childhood Abuse (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) - PDF
- Helping Yourself Heal: A Recovering Woman's Guide to Coping with Childhood Abuse Issues (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) - PDF Also in Spanish
- Substance Use in Women (National Institute on Drug Abuse) Also in Spanish
- Drug And Substance Use Disorders (AGS Health in Aging Foundation)
The information on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Contact a health care provider if you have questions about your health.