Frequently Asked Questions
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 abuse and addiction. NIDA-funded scientific research addresses the most fundamental and essential questions about drug abuse, 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 and special populations.
Information for funding opportunities available at NIDA can be found online at www.drugabuse.gov/funding.html. We fund meritorious and innovative scientific research on all aspects of drug abuse and addiction. Because NIDA is one of 27 institutes and centers that comprise the National Institutes of Health (NIH), our grants review process and funding policies are governed by NIH. 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.
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.
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.
Drug addiction is a complex, and often chronic, brain disease. It is characterized by drug craving, seeking, and use that can persist 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.”
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.
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. For information on substance abuse treatment providers, see: findtreatment.samhsa.gov or call 1-800-662-HELP.
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, requiring 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.
Drug addiction can be effectively treated with behavioral therapies and, for addiction to some drugs such as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol, medications. Treatment will vary for each person depending on the type of drug(s) being used. Multiple courses of treatment may be needed to achieve success. Research has revealed 13 basic principles that underlie effective drug addiction treatment discussed in NIDA’s Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide.
For referrals to treatment programs, call 1-800-662-HELP, or visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration online at findtreatment.samhsa.gov.
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.
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.
Clinical trials are research studies that answer specific questions about new treatments for health conditions such as drug addiction. NIDA’s CTN seeks to test treatments for drug addiction, both medication and behavioral-based, in community settings.
NIDA has established a network of CTN research centers across the country. Each one partners with several community treatment programs where patient volunteers are recruited for clinical trials. Researchers and practitioners involved in the CTN work together to determine treatment concepts to be tested. To date, 30 major trials and related sub-studies have been completed by the CTN, and nearly 20 major trials and related sub-studies are under way. As part of the clinical trials, providers are trained in the delivery of evidence-based practices, thus infusing research findings into the diverse culture of community treatment. This process of bringing together researchers and practitioners to test the real-world feasibility and effectiveness of proven treatments is changing the way drug abuse treatment is provided in this country. Researchers, community treatment providers, and people who want to learn about participating in the CTN should visit www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/organization/cctn/ctn.
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.
Drug abuse costs the United States economy over $600 billion dollars annually in increased health care costs, crime, and lost productivity, broken down as follows by type of drug:
- Illicit drug abuse: $181B
- Alcohol abuse: $235B
- Tobacco: $193B
Beyond the raw numbers are other costs to society, including:
- 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.
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 Over Matter 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.
Unless otherwise specified, NIDA’s products are in the public domain and can be copied as a whole without seeking permission from NIDA. Also, text selections and graphics that do not have source citations listed beside, above, or below them can also be used without permission. If the person or organization using such material wishes to cite the document or text, standard citation formats relating to publications and Web sites should be followed.
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 will need to be sought directly from the listed source.