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Updates regarding government operating status and resumption of normal operations can be found at USA.gov.

Frequently Asked Questions

Revised March 2017

What does the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) do?

NIDA is a federal scientific research institute under the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIDA is the largest supporter of the world's research on drug use and addiction. NIDA-funded scientific research addresses the most fundamental and essential questions about drug use, including tracking emerging drug use trends, understanding how drugs work in the brain and body, developing and testing new drug treatment and prevention approaches, and disseminating findings to the general public, researchers, policymakers, and others.

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How does NIDA fund research?

NIDA is one of 27 institutes and centers that comprise the National Institutes of Health (NIH), so the NIH governs our grants review process. We fund meritorious and innovative scientific research on all aspects of drug use and addiction. Information for funding opportunities is available on the NIDA webpage, Funding Opportunities. All NIH funding opportunities, including grants, contracts, training, and small business initiatives, are posted in the NIH Guide. The NIH Guide also provides instructions on how to apply for funding. For answers to more specific questions, see the Grant & Contract Application Process' Frequently Asked Questions webpage.

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What drugs commonly cause problems, and how do they affect the body?

For information on common drugs and their health effects, see the Commonly Abused Drugs Charts.   

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Where can I get statistics on drug use and overdose?

NIDA and other agencies track trends in drug use through various surveys and data collection systems. Annually, NIDA supports the collection of data on drug use patterns among secondary school students and young adults through the Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey; for more information, see the Monitoring the Future Survey: High School and Youth Trends DrugFacts.

NIDA also supports the National Drug Early Warning System (NDEWS), a network of researchers who monitor drug use patterns in major metropolitan areas across the Nation and in regional "hot spots," such as within and across border cities and areas. You can also find statistics on drug use from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, compiled by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Visit our Overdose Death Rates webpage for statistics on drug overdose deaths, compiled from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's CDC Wonder database.

You can find more information on NIDA's Trends & Statistics webpage.

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What are the costs of drug use to society?

Drug use costs the United States economy more than $700 billion 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 women who use drugs
  • crime, unemployment, domestic abuse, family dissolution, and homelessness

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What is drug addiction?

Drug addiction is the most severe form of a substance use disorder (SUD). An SUD develops when a person’s continued use of alcohol and/or drugs causes significant issues, such as health problems, disability, and failure to meet responsibilities at work, school, or home. An SUD can range from mild to severe.  

Addiction is a complex, chronic brain disease characterized by drug craving, seeking, and use that persists even in the face of devastating life consequences. Addiction results largely from brain changes that stem from prolonged drug use—changes that involve multiple brain circuits, including those responsible for governing self-control and other behaviors. Drug addiction is treatable, often with medications (for some addictions) combined with behavioral therapies. However, relapse is common and can happen even after long periods of abstinence, underscoring the need for long-term support and care. Relapse does not signify treatment failure, but rather should prompt treatment re-engagement or modification. For more information, see Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction.

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How quickly can someone 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 affect a person’s sensitivity to various drugs and likelihood of addiction vulnerability. While one person may use a drug one or many times and suffer no ill effects, another person may overdose with the 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—an important one being whether you have a family history of addiction.

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How do I know if someone is using or is addicted to drugs, and how can I find help?

The signs of drug use and addiction can vary depending on the person and the drug, but some common signs are:

  • impaired speech and motor coordination
  • bloodshot eyes or pupils that are larger or smaller than usual
  • changes in physical appearance or personal hygiene
  • changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • sudden weight loss or weight gain
  • unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing
  • changes in mood or disinterest in engaging in relationships or activities

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 use, then he or she is probably addicted. And while people who are addicted may believe they can stop any time, most often they cannot and need professional help to quit. Support from friends and family can be critical in getting people into treatment and helping them to stay drug-free following treatment.

If you know someone who has a problem with drugs and needs help, see our Step-by-Step Treatment Guides. For information on substance use treatment providers, see the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator or call 1-800-662-HELP.

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If a pregnant woman uses drugs, how does it affect the baby during and after pregnancy?

Many substances, including alcohol, nicotine, medications, and illicit drugs, can have negative effects on the developing fetus because these substances reach the fetus through the placenta. Nicotine has been connected with premature birth and low birth weight, as has the use of cocaine. Heroin exposure results in dependence in the newborn, requiring treatment for withdrawal symptoms. Drug use during pregnancy is also linked to brain and behavioral problems in the baby, which may lead to cognitive challenges for the child. It is often difficult to tease apart the various factors that go with drug use during pregnancy—poor nutrition, inadequate prenatal care, stress, and psychiatric comorbidities—all of which may affect a baby's development. For more information, see the Substance Use in Women Research Report.

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Are there effective treatments for drug addiction?

Drug addiction can be effectively treated with behavioral therapies and—for addiction to some drugs such as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol—with medications. Treatment will vary for each person depending on the type of drug(s) being used. Some might need multiple courses of treatment to achieve success. Research has revealed 13 basic principles for effective drug addiction treatment discussed in NIDA's Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide.

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Where can I find information about drug treatment programs?

For referrals to treatment programs, call 1-800-662-HELP, or visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration online.

Also see NIDA's Step-by-Step Treatment Guides for information about the steps to take if you or someone you know has problems with drugs. Please note that NIDA does not provide medical advice. For medical advice, we strongly urge you to contact a qualified health care provider.

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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. Detox alone is not treatment, but is often the first step in a drug treatment program. Treatment with behavioral therapy and/or a medication (if available) should follow detox.

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What is withdrawal? How long does it last?

Withdrawal describes the various symptoms that occur after a person abruptly reduces or stops long-term use of a drug. 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 easily be treated with medications to ease the symptoms, but treating withdrawal is not the same as treating addiction.

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Where can I get information about clinical trials or other NIH research?

Clinical trials are research studies involving human participants. The NIH has a website that explains how clinical trials are conducted and why they are important. The NIH also has a web database that helps you find a trial that might be appropriate for you or a loved one. All NIDA-funded trials specific to drug use and addiction are listed in this database. You can also check the NIDA Clinical Trials Locator that can link you to possible trials in your area.

For more information about other NIH-funded research, visit the NIH RePORTER database.

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How can I receive materials regarding drug use?

NIDA produces a variety of materials for the general public, teachers, students, researchers, and health care providers. NIDA materials are available via our website, which houses the NIDA DrugPubs Research Dissemination Center. Multiple featured publications are listed for downloading and for ordering print copies at no cost, along with a search feature to access materials about particular drugs and for specific audiences. These include:

  • Research Reports about different drugs of abuse and related topics for professional or research audiences
  • DrugFacts for general science-based facts about drug use and addiction for consumer audiences
  • NIDA Notes for research news and trends, intended for professional audiences
  • the NIDA’s Easy-to-Read Drug Facts website, for audiences with low-literacy skills

The NIDA for Teens website provides resources for teachers, students, and parents.

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Is permission required to use parts of or reproduce NIDA materials?

Unless otherwise specified, NIDA publications and videos are available for your use and may be reproduced in their entirety without permission from NIDA. Citation of the source is appreciated, using the following language:

Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Sections of text that do not have source citations listed beside, above, or below them can also be used without permission. Please note, however, that if a person or organization wishes to use text selections and graphics that do have source citations listed beside, above, or below them, permission for use should be requested directly from the listed source.

In most cases, imagery (i.e., photographs, illustrations, graphics) is not in the public domain and may not be used without permission. Send any questions about specific items to nidamultimedia@mail.nih.gov. For any item that has a source citation, you should seek permission directly from the original source.

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Do you have a newsletter I can subscribe to?

Yes. NIDA offers a variety of content that you can custom tailor to receive via email. Visit NIDA’s Subscribe to Drug Research Articles webpage to sign up.

The NIDA Notes RSS feeds offer a convenient way to get NIDA Notes articles. You may subscribe to as many drug-use research topics as you would like.

You can also subscribe to What's New at the National Institute on Drug Abuse newsletter, which highlights recent science findings, news, funding announcements, and more (subscribe at NIDANEWS@list.nih.gov).

This page was last updated March 2017