Addiction FAQs

In order to help patients understand their treatment, we provide this series of frequently asked questions about addiction treatment resources. So, read our addiction FAQs to see if there are answers to your questions.

What are the physical signs of abuse or addiction?

Man holds head in his hands in a hallway pondering frequently asked questions about addictionThe 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 is drug addiction?

Drug addiction is a complex, and often chronic, brain disease. It is characterized by craving, seeking, and abusing addictive substances, even in the face of devastating life consequences. Addiction results largely from changes in the brain that stem from prolonged drug use—changes that involve multiple brain circuits, including those responsible for governing self-control and other behaviors. Thankfully, drug addiction is treatable. Drug addiction treatment can sometimes involve medication for some addictions, but typically always involves 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.”

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 as well as 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, an important clue 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 is most likely addicted. And while people who are addicted may believe they can stop at any time, most often they cannot and will need professional help—first to determine if they are in fact addicted, and then to obtain drug abuse treatment. Support from friends and family can be critical in getting people into treatment and helping them maintain abstinence following treatment.

If a pregnant woman abuses drugs, does it affect the fetus?

Many substances including alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs of abuse can have negative effects on the developing fetus because they are transferred to the fetus across the placenta. For example, 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, which, of course, requires treatment for withdrawal symptoms. It is often difficult to tease apart the confluence of factors that go with drug abuse during pregnancy—poor nutrition, inadequate prenatal care, stress, and psychiatric comorbidities—all of which may impact fetal development.

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 also be followed by treatment with a behavioral-based therapy and/or a medication, if available. Of course, 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. However, 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 $600 billion dollars annually in addiction treatment resources. This includes increased health care costs, crime, as well as lost productivity, broken down as follows by type of drug:

Beyond the raw numbers are other costs to society, including:

  • The spread of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS & hepatitis C
  • Deaths due to overdose or other complications from drug use
  • Effects on unborn children of pregnant drug users
  • Increases in crime, unemployment, domestic abuse, family dissolution, and homelessness

Information Resources

If none of the above addiction treatment resources or addiction FAQs answered your questions, then be sure to check out the many great resources below, all available to you online!

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

For addiction treatment resources on the causes, consequences, prevention, and also the treatment of alcohol-related problems from the lead U.S. research agency on alcohol and health: 301-443-3860. Sample publications for the public:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

For addiction treatment resources about substance abuse prevention and treatment services:

National Institute on Drug Abuse—For information about other drug problems that often co-exist with alcohol problems: 301-443-1124.
National Institute of Mental Health—For information on problems such as anxiety and depression that can co-exist with alcohol problems: 866-615-6464.

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Professional Help

Your regular doctor

Primary care and mental health practitioners can provide effective alcoholism treatment by combining new medications along with a series of brief counseling visits. See Helping Patients Who Drink Too Much.

Specialists in alcoholism

If you’re looking for specialty addiction treatment resources, then contact your doctor, health insurance company, local health department, or employee assistance program, also check out the Treatment Facility Locator (1-800-662-4357). In addition, these professional organizations can also help you find medical or non-medical addiction specialists in your area:

Mutual-Support Groups

You may need to try out several groups before finding one that’s comfortable for you.