Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States. Cigarette smoking results in more than 400,000 preventable deaths each year – about one in every five U.S. deaths. Despite the well-documented health costs of smoking, many smokers have great difficulty quitting, and many others are still becoming addicted – about 1200 per day in the U.S. Researchers are striving to understand the numerous effects of nicotine on the brain and body, determine why it is so addictive, and help smokers break its hold for good.
Many people today do not understand why individuals become addicted to drugs, or how drugs change the brain to foster compulsive drug abuse. This new NIDA booklet aims to fill that knowledge gap by providing scientific information about the disease of drug addiction, including the many harmful consequences and basic approaches to prevent and treat the disease. View the Science of Addiction Booklet.
Each year, drug abuse and addiction cost taxpayers nearly $534 billion in preventable health care, law enforcement, crime, and other costs. For NIDA, the key word in this assessment is "preventable." The best approach to reducing the tremendous toll substance abuse exacts from individuals, families, and communities is to prevent the damage before it occurs.
Prescription drug abuse is the intentional use of a medication without a prescription; in a way other than as prescribed; or for the experience or feeling it causes. It is not a new problem, but one that deserves renewed attention. For although prescription drugs can be powerful allies, they also pose serious health risks related to their abuse.
Exposure to substances of abuse can affect individuals across the lifespan, starting in utero. While most pregnant women do not abuse illicit drugs, combined 2008 and 2009 data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that among pregnant women ages 15 to 44, the youngest ones generally reported the greatest substance use. Also, pregnant women ages 15 to 17 had similar rates of illicit drug use (15.8 percent or 14,000 women) as women of the same age who were not pregnant (13.0 percent or 832,000 women).
We have a public health mandate to stop the devastating scourge of drug abuse and addiction afflicting this country. Translating the knowledge we have gained into new medications could revolutionize the way we treat addiction and even how we prevent drug abuse from occurring in the first place. It is a gaping need.