Drug abuse is continued misuse of drugs even when faced with drug-related job, legal, health, or family difficulties.
Drug addiction is long-term, compulsive drug use. The person may attempt to stop using drugs, but repeatedly return to drug use despite physical, emotional, or social harm. Drug dependence means that the body has begun to require the drug in higher doses to have the same effect and to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Drugs that commonly abused include:
The addictive potential of each drug is different.
The exact cause of drug abuse and dependence is unknown, but there are many theories. For example, some people may inherit certain genes that make them more likely to abuse drugs. Another theory is that people learn how to use drugs by copying the behavior of others, especially their parents. Also, changes that happen in the brain due to long-term drug use may reinforce a person's desire to keep using drugs.
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Drug abuse and addiction are more common in young men, but can occur in anyone at any age. Other factors that may increase the chances of drug abuse and addiction include:
It is common for a person to deny drug abuse and addiction.
Symptoms of drug abuse include:
Drug abuse can occur without being physically addicted to a drug.
Symptoms of drug addiction include at least 3 of the following:
Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your doctor will also ask about:
Your doctor may order blood or urine tests to check for the presence of drugs.
While there is no cure for drug abuse or dependence, there are 3 main treatment goals:
Successful treatment depends on you being able to recognize that you have a problem and having the desire to change. Recovery takes a long time. It is a difficult process. In some cases, you may need to go through treatment several times.
Treatment options may involve one or more of the following:
Medication may be recommended to help relieve withdrawal symptoms and reduce the risk of relapse.
Therapy can help raise your awareness of issues and lifestyle choices that lead you to abuse drugs. Through therapy, you can improve your coping skills and problem-solving skills. You can also learn how to replace drug-using activities with healthier choices. It is also important that your family is involved in your treatment.
There are many organizations and support groups dedicated to helping people become drug-free. Two examples are the 12-step programs Narcotics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous. Members meet regularly to talk about their drug-related problems and their recovery. They provide a network of support.
To reduce your chance of drug abuse or addiction, take these steps:
National Institute on Drug Abuse
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
DrugFacts: Treatment approaches for drug addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse website. Available at: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-approaches-drug-addiction. Updated September 2009. Accessed March 28, 2013.
Drugs, brains, and behavior: The science of addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse website. Available at: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drug-abuse-addiction. Updated August 2010. Accessed March 28, 2013.
Opioid abuse or dependence. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T219069/Opioid-abuse-or-dependence. Updated September 8, 2016. Accessed September 29, 2016.
Substance use disorders. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
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Updated February 7, 2013. Accessed March 28, 2013.
2/4/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
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Schinke SP, Fang L, et al. Computer-delivered, parent-involvement intervention to prevent substance use among adolescent girls. Prev Med. 2009;49;429-435.
Last reviewed March 2017 by
EBSCO Medical Review BoardAdrian Preda, MD
Last Updated: 6/24/2013
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