What are the physical signs of abuse or addiction?

The physical signs of abuse or addiction can vary depending on the person and the drug being abused. For example, someone who abuses marijuana may have a chronic cough or worsening of asthmatic symptoms. Each drug has short-term and long-term physical effects. Stimulants like cocaine increase heart rate and blood pressure, whereas opioids like heroin may slow the heart rate and reduce respiration.


What drugs are commonly abused?

NIDA and other agencies track trends in drug abuse through various surveys and data collection systems. Annually, NIDA supports the collection of data on drug abuse patterns among secondary school students and young adults through the Monitoring the Future Study (MTF); for more information, see DrugFacts - High school and Youth Trends. NIDA also supports a Community Epidemiology Work Group, a network of researchers who meet twice yearly to discuss drug abuse patterns in major metropolitan areas across the nation and in regional "hot spots," such as within and across border cities and areas.

For information on commonly abused drugs, see Commonly Abused Drugs, for a chart containing information on street and commercial names of abused drugs and their health consequences.


How quickly can I become addicted to a drug?

There is no easy answer to this common question. If and how quickly you become addicted to a drug depends on many factors, including your biology (your genes, for example), age, gender, environment, and interactions among these factors. Vast differences characterize individual sensitivity to various drugs and to addiction vulnerability. While one person may use a drug one or many times and suffer no ill effects, another person may overdose with first use, or become addicted after a few uses. There is no way of knowing in advance how quickly you will become addicted—but there are some clues, one important one being whether you have a family history of addiction.


How do I know if someone is addicted to drugs?

If a person is compulsively seeking and using a drug(s) despite negative consequences, such as loss of job, debt, family problems, or physical problems brought on by drug abuse, then he or she probably is addicted. And while people who are addicted may believe they can stop any time, most often they cannot, and will need professional help—first to determine if they in fact are addicted, and then to obtain drug abuse treatment. Support from friends and family can be critical in getting people into treatment and helping them to maintain abstinence following treatment. 


What is detoxification, or "detox"?

Detoxification is the process of allowing the body to rid itself of a drug while managing the symptoms of withdrawal. It is often the first step in a drug treatment program and should be followed by treatment with a behavioral-based therapy and/or a medication, if available. Detox alone with no follow-up is not treatment.


What is withdrawal? How long does it last?

Withdrawal describes the various symptoms that occur after long-term use of a drug is reduced or stopped abruptly. Length of withdrawal and symptoms vary with the type of drug. For example, physical symptoms of heroin withdrawal may include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, and cold flashes. These physical symptoms may last for several days, but the general depression, or dysphoria (opposite of euphoria), that often accompanies heroin withdrawal may last for weeks. In many cases, withdrawal can be easily treated with medications to ease the symptoms, but treating withdrawal is not the same as treating addiction.


What are the costs of drug abuse to society?

Drug abuse costs the United States economy over $700 billion dollars annually in increased health care costs, crime, and lost productivity.  Economic impact is only one facet of drug-related costs to society, which include: the spread of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C either through sharing of drug paraphernalia or unprotected sex; deaths due to overdose or other complications from drug use; effects on unborn children of pregnant drug users; and other effects such as crime, unemployment, domestic abuse, family dissolution, and homelessness.


How can I receive educational materials regarding drug abuse?

NIDA produces a variety of educational materials for the general public and healthcare providers. NIDA's materials are available via our website, which houses the NIDA Drug PUBS Research Dissemination Center Drugpubs.drugabuse.gov. Multiple featured publications are listed for downloading and for ordering print copies, along with a lookup feature to access materials on particular drugs, for specific audiences, and within the array of NIDA series. The latter includes:

For teachers and students, NIDA Goes Back to School provides science-based drug abuse education materials geared to students in grades K-12 and their teachers. All of these materials are free. Students are encouraged to join Sara Bellum, a budding neuroscientist, as she explores the effects of various drugs on the brain. Students and teachers can learn through the Mind OverMatter curriculum, or they can go online to join in Sara's Quest an interactive web-based program. Educationally appropriate materials from NIDA's collaboration with Scholastic Marketing Partners, the in-school marketing division of Scholastic, the global children's publishing and media company, also are available in compilations by year from NIDA's publications catalog and online through NIDA Goes Back to School. These products include articles and posters from the Heads Up: Real News About Drugs and Your Body program through which Scholastic features NIDA science-based articles on drug abuse and addiction in its Classroom Magazines. ScholasticNews.com also maintains a Heads Up Web site at headsup.scholastic.com. Also available is Marijuana: Facts for Teens and a companion booklet, Marijuana: Facts Parents Need to Know.



NIDA partners with other NIH Institutes, Federal agencies, and community and professional organizations to bring research findings to community and other treatment settings. In a landmark initiative begun in 2001, NIDA and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) developed what has come to be known as the Blending Initiative. This involves an interagency agreement designed to meld science and practice by encouraging the use of current evidence-based treatment interventions by professionals in the drug abuse treatment field.

"Blending Teams," composed of NIDA researchers and staff from the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment's (CSAT'S) Addiction Technology Transfer Center (ATTC) Network, are charged with disseminating research results for adoption and implementation in practice settings. Specifically, these teams help develop innovative "products" (e.g. training curricula, supervisory manuals) for the substance abuse treatment and research community. For the first time, these products are being made available at nearly the same time that the research results are published in peer-reviewed journals, substantially reducing the gap between research and practice. Blending gives treatment providers the necessary tools to facilitate the adoption of science-based interventions for use in their communities. This effort also will establish and maintain regional and national partnerships with drug abuse researchers and community-based treatment providers as well as policy makers, stakeholders, and the general public.