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NIDA Home > Frequently Asked Questions   

Frequently Asked Questions

- What does the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) do?
- What drugs are commonly abused?
- What is drug addiction?
- How quickly can I become addicted to a drug?
- How do I know if someone is addicted to drugs?
- What are the physical signs of abuse or addiction?
- Are there effective treatments for drug addiction?
- Where can I find information about drug treatment programs?
- What is detoxification, or “detox”?
- What is withdrawal? How long does it last?
- What are the costs of drug abuse to society?
- If a pregnant woman abuses drugs, does it affect the fetus?
- How can I receive educational materials regarding drug abuse?
- How does NIDA fund research?
- What is NIDA’s Drug Abuse Treatment Clinical Trials Network (CTN)?

What does the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) do?
NIDA supports over 85% of the world’s research on drug abuse and addiction. NIDA-supported science addresses the most fundamental and essential questions about drug abuse, including tracking emerging drug use trends, understanding how drugs work in the brain, and developing and testing new drug treatment and prevention approaches.

What drugs are commonly abused?
NIDA and other agencies discover what drugs are being abused by tracking trends in drug use through many different 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) . Table 1 provides 2000 MTF data for some commonly abused drugs among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders. NIDA has also gathered information on types of commonly abused drugs, such as street and commercial names and health effects, into a chart which is available on line (link to chart).

NIDA also monitors general and emerging drug use trends through its Community Epidemiology Work Group which meets twice yearly to discuss the trends in major metropolitan areas across the nation. To view the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s listing of federal drug surveys visit

Drug/Type of Drug MTF 2000 Data for Current* Use
Any Illicit Drug 8th - 11.9% 10th - 22.5% 12th - 24.9%
- Smokeless Tobacco

8th - 14.6%
8th - 4.2%

10th - 23.9
10th - 6.1%

12th - 31.4%
12th - 7.6%
Marijuana 8th - 9.1% 10th - 19.7% 12th - 21.6%
Inhalants 8th - 4.5% 10th - 2.6% 12th - 2.2%
- Methamphetamine
8th - 3.4%
8th - 0.8%
10th - 5.4%
10th - 2.0%
12th - 5.0%
12th - 1.9%
Prescription Drugs
- Other Narcotics**
- Barbiturates**
- Tranquilizers

8th - 1.4%

10th - 2.5%

12th - 2.9%
12th - 3.0%
12th - 2.6%
Ecstasy (MDMA) 8th - 1.4% 10th - 2.6% 12th - 3.6%
Cocaine 8th - 1.2% 10th - 1.8% 12th - 2.1%
Heroin 8th - 0.5% 10th - 0.5% 12th - 0.7%

* current = use in past 30 days
** MTF data on use of other narcotics and barbiturates is excluded for 8th and 10th graders as these younger respondents appear to overreport use (perhaps because they include use of nonprescription drugs in their answer).

What is drug addiction?
Drug addiction is a complex brain disease. It is characterized by compulsive, at times uncontrollable, drug craving, seeking, and use that persist even in the face of extremely negative consequences. Drug seeking becomes compulsive, in large part as a result of the effects of prolonged drug use on brain functioning and, thus, on behavior. For many people, drug addiction becomes chronic, with relapses possible even after long periods of abstinence. For more information visit

How quickly can I become addicted to a drug?
There is no easy answer to this. If and how quickly you might become addicted to a drug depends on many factors including the biology of your body. All drugs are potentially harmful and may have life-threatening consequences associated with their use. There are also vast differences among individuals in sensitivity to various drugs. While one person may use a drug one or many times and suffer no ill effects, another person may be particularly vulnerable and overdose with first use. There is no way of knowing in advance how someone may react.

How do I know if someone is addicted to drugs?
If a person is compulsively seeking and using a drug despite negative consequences, such as loss of job, debt, physical problems brought on by drug abuse, or family problems, then he or she is probably addicted. Those who screen for drug problems, such as physicians, have developed the CAGE+ questionnaire. These four simple questions can help detect substance abuse problems:

  1. Have you ever felt you ought to Cut down on your drinking/drug use?
  2. Have people ever Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking/drug use?
  3. Have you ever felt bad or Guilty about your drinking/drug use?
  4. Have you ever had a drink or taken a drug first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover (Eye-opener)?

+ Adapted from: Ewing JA. Detecting Alcoholism: The CAGE Questionnaire. JAMA, 252:1905-1907, 1984.

What are the physical signs of abuse or addiction?
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 conditions. THC, the chemical in marijuana responsible for producing its effects, is associated with weakening the immune system which makes the user more vulnerable to infections, such as pneumonia. 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.

Are there effective treatments for drug addiction?
Drug addiction can be effectively treated with behavioral-based therapies and, for addiction to some drugs such as heroin or nicotine, medications. Treatment may vary for each person depending on the type of drug(s) being used and 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.

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 at

NIDA publishes an expanding series of treatment manuals, the “clinical toolbox,” that gives drug treatment providers research-based information for creating effective treatment programs.

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 be followed by treatment with a behavioral-based therapy and/or a medication, if available. Detox alone with no follow-up is not treatment.

What is withdrawal? How long does it last?
Withdrawal is the variety of symptoms that occur after use of some addictive drugs is reduced or stopped. 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?
It is estimated that in 2000 illegal drug use cost America close to $161 billion:

  • $110 billion in lost productivity
  • $12.9 billion in healthcare costs
  • $35 billion in other costs, such as efforts to stem the flow of drugs.

For more details on the economic cost of drug abuse, click here.

Beyond the raw numbers are other costs to society:

  • 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
  • other effects such as crime and homelessness.

If a pregnant woman abuses drugs, does it affect the fetus?
Many substances including alcohol, nicotine, and 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. Scientific studies have shown that babies born to marijuana users were shorter, weighed less, and had smaller head sizes than those born to mothers who did not use the drug. Smaller babies are more likely to develop health problems.

Whether a baby’s health problems, if caused by a drug, will continue as the child grows, is not always known. Research does show that children born to mothers who used marijuana regularly during pregnancy may have trouble concentrating, even when older. Our research continues to produce insights on the negative effects of drug use on the fetus.

How can I receive educational materials regarding drug abuse?
NIDA produces a variety of educational materials for the general public and healthcare providers:

We have a publications catalog online and orders can be placed by calling the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information at 1-800-729-6686. Many of our publications are available in both English and Spanish.

NIDA Goes to School provides science-based drug abuse education materials geared to students in grades 5 through 9 and their teachers. 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. Also available is Marijuana: Facts for Teens and a companion booklet, Marijuana: Facts Parents Need to Know.

How does NIDA fund research?
Information for funding opportunities available at NIDA can be found online at We fund excellent and innovative scientific research regarding 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.

What is NIDA’s Drug Abuse Treatment Clinical Trials Network (CTN)?
Clinical trials are research studies that answer specific questions about new treatments for health conditions such as drug addiction. The CTN seeks to find new treatments, both medication and behavioral-based, for drug addiction and make the findings accessible to those across the Nation who treat addiction.

NIDA has established several clinical trials centers across the country. Each center partners with several community treatment programs where patient volunteers are recruited for the trials. Researchers and practitioners involved in the CTN work together to determine treatment concepts to be tested. Researchers, community treatment providers, and people that want to learn about participating in the CTN should visit

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The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Questions? See our Contact Information. Last updated on Monday, March 24, 2003.