Frequently Asked Questions

The world of drugs and addictive substances is rapidly changing, and many of us are unfamiliar with the facts about substances and addiction. We've compiled this list of FAQs on a number of critical topics to keep you informed and ready to help yourself or your loved one at any time.



I found out my child is using drugs, what should I say to him/her?

Don’t start the conversation when your child is intoxicated or under the influence. Think about your goals in having this conversation and remain calm. Express how much you care and that you just want them to be healthy and safe. Listen to what they have to say without anger or judgment. How to start the conversation

How do I talk to my child about vaping?

Try to understand why your child is vaping and be aware that vaping can quickly become very addictive and habit-forming. Get their perspective and help them weigh the risks by having science-based facts ready to discuss. More details and information See more on the risks of vaping under "E-cigarettes/Vaping"

What can I do if I suspect someone I know has a problem with substance use?

There are signs that a loved one may be having a problem with substances. When someone you care about asks you for help, recognize that this is an important first step. Try to get them to get an evaluation from a doctor with expertise in addiction, or you can take steps to locate a provider and leave the information with your loved one. Tell your loved one that treatment works and people recover every day – you will be there to support them however you can. Treating and preventing drug misuse and How to find help See also "signs and symptoms of substance use disorders" under Drug Trends

What is the CRAFT method of communicating with a loved one?

Community Reinforcement and Family Training, or CRAFT, is an approach for families who have a loved one struggling with substances, but who is not really interested in making changes or getting help. CRAFT is about learning a different method to communicate with and support your loved one while taking care of yourself. CRAFT explained

How can friends and family help?

When friends and family show they care, it can help a loved one get treatment and stick with it, even when it is difficult. You can help find treatment services and information, offer rides to groups, help them find a place to live or work if they need to, help distract them and avoid places that might tempt them to use substances, and be understanding if they relapse as that is often part of recovery. How you can help


How can I help my child stay away from drugs?

Kids are exposed to drugs all the time – on social media, in the news, TV and movies and, sadly, in real life situations. There are many things you can do to help your child make good choices. Talk to your child openly about drugs. Intervening in early childhood can be very effective and, certainly, adolescence is a critical time for preventing drug addiction. Be aware of the challenges your child faces and be a reliable and educated source of information. Preventing drug addiction and Helping your children stay drug-free See also talking to your younger children below

Should I talk to my younger children about drugs?

As a parent, you are the biggest influence in your child’s life and having open, honest conversations is one of the most powerful ways to connect with your kids and help them develop into healthy adults. When addressing some more challenging topics – like nicotine, alcohol or drugs – it’s about keeping the lines of communication open and having frequent conversations that evolve as your child gets older, and always making sure you come from a place of love and compassion. Drug prevention tips for every age

What are some key communication skills I can use to try to prevent drug use?

Good Communication between parents and children is the foundation of strong family relationships. Developing good communication skills helps parents connect with their children and catch problems early. Stay calm and be compassionate even during tough conversations. Refrain from judgement, blame or criticism. Ask questions to elicit answers rather than lecture. Listen with respect and remain engaged. Some key communication skills

What can I do to prevent an opioid overdose?

The best ways to prevent opioid overdose deaths are to improve opioid prescribing, reduce exposure to opioids, prevent misuse, and treat opioid use disorder. Recognizing an opioid overdose can be difficult. If you aren’t sure, it is best to call 911 or seek medical care for the individual. Do not leave the person alone. More about overdose prevention

Drug Trends/Signs of Use

What are some commonly used drugs and their potential for misuse or addiction?

Unfortunately there are many substances, some legal and some not, with a potential for misuse and adverse health effects. It is worthwhile to educate yourself and learn what is out there. Commonly used drugs and the DEA's list of drugs and their effects

What are the signs and symptoms of a substance use disorder or addiction?

Addiction and substance use disorders affect people of all ages and socioeconomic statuses – they do not discriminate. It can happen to anyone. Use of most substances will produce noticeable signs and symptoms. These may include physical or behavioral symptoms—most likely both. Signs of a drug problem

How do I know if my child is using drugs?

Figuring out if your child is using substances can be challenging. Many of the signs and symptoms are typical teen or young adult behavior. Many are also symptoms of mental health issues, including depression or anxiety. Spotting signs of substance use

What are the effects of using substances?

Many drugs can alter a person’s thinking and judgment, and can lead to health risks, including addiction, drugged driving, infectious disease, and adverse effects on pregnancy. Drug use and its resulting health effects can change as new trends and drug formulations emerge and become more widely used. Comprehensive drug guide and their effects Facts about drugs Information about other physical and mental health consequences

How do I know if I have a problem with substances?

If you continue to use a substance despite its harmful effects and cannot stop using it on your own even if you try, then you might be addicted. It can happen to anyone and it is nothing to be ashamed of. Repeated substance use changes the brain. Quitting is difficult, even for those who feel ready. Recognizing there is an issue and asking for help is a courageous first step. For more information on determining if you have a problem with drugs: For Adults For Teens

The Brain

How does the brain develop?

Research has shown that brain development continues well into a person's 20s, a time that encompasses many important developmental and social changes in a young person’s life. The prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is responsible for impulse control, more reasoned thought and good judgment, develops later. The adolescent brain and How the brain works

How do substances impact brain development?

Most kids grow dramatically during their adolescent and teen years. Their young brains, particularly the prefrontal cortex that is used to make decisions, do not fully develop until their mid-20’s. Use of substances can cause changes to the brain that can set people up for addiction and other problems. Once a young person is addicted, his or her brain changes so that drugs are now the top priority. How drugs impact brain development

What do drugs do to brain functions?

Drugs interfere with the way neurons send, receive, and process signals via neurotransmitters. Drugs can alter important brain areas that are necessary for life-sustaining functions and can drive the compulsive drug use that marks addiction. When substances are used to fulfill needs and “feel good,” it interferes with the body’s development of its natural reward system. Substances overload the brain with dopamine, causing the brain to right the balance by letting in less and less dopamine. As time goes on, the brain needs more and more of the substance to feel its effects – this is known as “tolerance.” Effects of drugs on the brain

Why are teenagers more susceptible to developing addiction?

Some of the signals that neurotransmitters send cause feelings of satisfaction or pleasure. These natural rewards are the body’s way of making sure we look for more of what makes us feel good. Because teenagers have an over-active impulse to seek pleasure and less ability to consider the consequences, they are especially vulnerable when it comes to nicotine, alcohol or drugs. And because the internal reward systems are still being developed, a teen’s ability to bounce back to normal after using substances may be compromised due to how substances affect the brain, making teens more vulnerable than adults to developing addiction. The teenage brain

Why are substances rewarding to the brain?

For the brain, the difference between normal rewards and drug rewards can be likened to the difference between someone whispering into your ear and someone shouting into a microphone. Just as we turn down the volume on a radio that is too loud, the brain of someone who misuses drugs adjusts by producing fewer neurotransmitters in the reward circuit, or by reducing the number of receptors that can receive signals. As a result, the person's ability to experience pleasure from naturally rewarding activities is also reduced. Now, the person needs to keep taking drugs to experience even a normal level of reward, which only makes the problem worse. The science of addiction

Mental Health

Is addiction a mental illness?

Yes. Addiction changes the brain in fundamental ways, changing a person’s normal needs and desires and replacing them with new priorities connected with seeking and using the drug. This results in compulsive behaviors that weaken the ability to control impulses, despite the negative consequences, and are similar to the hallmarks of other mental illnesses. Addiction as a brain disease

What is a co-occurring condition or a comorbidity?

Co-occurring condition is the term used to describe two or more disorders or illnesses that occur in the same person. They can exist at the same time, or one after the other. It is sometimes referred to as comorbidity. The link between substance use and mental illness (for teens) Why substance use disorders and mental health issues occur together

Does substance use cause mental health disorders?

Drug use and other mental illness often co-exist. In some cases, mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, or schizophrenia may come before addiction. In other cases, drug use may trigger or worsen those mental health conditions, particularly in people with specific vulnerabilities. Some people with disorders like anxiety or depression may use drugs in an attempt to alleviate symptoms. This may exacerbate their mental disorder in the long run, as well as increase the risk of developing addiction. The relationship between SUDs and mental health disorders and Why disorders often co-occur

Is there a link between marijuana use and psychiatric illnesses?

Several studies have linked marijuana use to increased risk for psychiatric disorders, including psychosis (schizophrenia), depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders. Recent research suggests that smoking high-potency marijuana every day could increase the chances of developing psychosis by nearly five times compared to people who have never used marijuana. The link between marijuana and psychiatric disorders


What are the effects of alcohol?

Alcohol interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, affect mood, behavior and physical coordination. Alcohol also impacts the heart, liver and other vital organs. In addition, drinking too much can weaken your immune system, making you prone to certain diseases. Alcohol's health effects on the body

How much alcohol is too much?

Many people are surprised to learn what counts as a drink. The amount of liquid does not necessarily match up to how much alcohol is actually in your drink. Different types of drinks can have very different amounts of alcohol content. In the United States, one "standard" drink (or one alcoholic drink equivalent) contains roughly 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is found in: 12 ounces of regular beer, which is usually about 5% alcohol 5 ounces of wine, which is typically about 12% alcohol 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, which is about 40% alcohol Find out if your drinking habits are cause for concern

What are the dangers of drinking too much alcohol?

Drinking too much and too quickly can lead to significant impairments in motor coordination, decision-making, impulse control, and other functions, increasing the risk of harm. Continuing to drink despite clear signs of significant impairments can result in an alcohol overdose. Signs of alcohol misuse and Dangers of alcohol overdose

What is alcohol use disorder (AUD)?

Problem drinking that becomes severe is given the medical diagnosis of “alcohol use disorder” or AUD. AUD is a chronic relapsing brain disorder characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences. Alcohol Use Disorder and Symptoms of alcohol use disorder

What is binge drinking?

Binge drinking is the most common and deadly pattern of excessive alcohol intake in the U.S. It is defined as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 percent – or 0.08 grams of alcohol per deciliter – or higher. Many people who binge drink do not necessarily have an AUD. Binge drinking is characterized by consuming a certain number of drinks within a short amount of time (this can vary based on age and sex). Risks of binge drinking and How common it is and its consequences


What is marijuana?

Marijuana refers to the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plant. The plant contains the mind-altering chemical THC and other similar compounds. Extracts can also be made from the cannabis plant. Marijuana facts

What are the risks of using marijuana?

Marijuana can cause permanent IQ loss when people start using it at a young age. There are studies that link marijuana to depression, anxiety and psychosis. People who drive under the influence of marijuana can experience dangerous effects that impact reaction time. See more on risks of using marijuana See more on impact on driving See more on impact on health See more about the link between marijuana use and psychiatric disorders

Is marijuana a gateway drug?

Some research suggests that marijuana use is likely to precede use of other licit and illicit substances and the development of addiction to other substances. Early use of marijuana increases a person’s vulnerability for addiction and misuse of substances later in life. Marijuana use is also linked to other substance use disorders including nicotine addiction. Marijuana as a gateway drug

Is marijuana addictive?

Marijuana use can lead to the development of problem use, known as a marijuana use disorder, which takes the form of addiction in severe cases. Marijuana use disorders are often associated with dependence—in which a person feels withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug. According to SAMHSA, approximately 1 in 10 people who use marijuana will become addicted; that rate rises to 1 in 6 if a person starts using before 18. For more information

What are the long-term effects of marijuana use on the brain?

Marijuana affects brain development. When people begin using marijuana as teenagers, the drug may impair thinking, memory, and cognitive learning functions. Some studies have linked marijuana use to a decline in IQ points. Long-term effects of marijuana use

What are marijuana or THC concentrates?

A marijuana concentrate is a highly potent THC concentrated mass that is most similar in appearance to either honey or butter. Marijuana concentrates have a much higher level of THC. The effects of using may be more severe, both psychologically and physically. Drug facts and Marijuana concentrates

Why is marijuana so dangerous to vape?

Aside from the risks to a person’s brain development and health, vaping marijuana is particularly dangerous as thousands of lung injuries and several deaths have been linked to vaping devices containing THC. Dangers of vaping marijuana

What are the risks of using edibles?

There are several health risks associated with using marijuana no matter how it is used, but edibles, which take longer to digest and, therefore, produce an effect, often lead people to consume more to feel the effects faster. This may lead to people consuming very high doses which could result in anxiety, paranoia and, in some cases, an extreme psychotic reaction. Dangers of edibles

How harmful is K2/spice (synthetic marijuana)?

Synthetic marijuana (also known as K2 or Spice) are dangerous and unpredictable. Research shows that synthetic cannabinoids affect the brain much more powerfully than marijuana creating unpredictable and sometime life-threatening effects. K2/Spice facts


What is a vaping device?

Vaping devices, also known as e-cigarettes, e-vaporizers, or electronic nicotine delivery systems, are battery-operated devices that people use to inhale an aerosol, which typically contains nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals. Some e-cigarettes look like regular cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. Some look like USB flash drives, pens, and other everyday items. Larger devices such as tank systems, or “mods,” do not look like other tobacco products. E-cigarettes/vaping devices

What are the risks of e-cigarette use to children and teens?

E-cigarettes are unsafe for kids, teens and young adults. Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and can harm adolescent brain development. E-cigarettes also contain other harmful substances. Young people who use e-cigarettes are more likely to smoke traditional cigarettes in the future, creating a generation of smokers who likely would not otherwise have become smokers. More on the risks of e-cigarettes to teens E-cigarette basics for teens from the Surgeon General Information on the risks to teens from the CDC Parent tip sheet on how to talk to teens about vaping

What are the general risks of e-cigarettes and vaping?

Vaping can lead to nicotine addiction and increased risk for addiction to other substances. Vaping also exposes the lungs to a variety of chemicals, including those added to e-liquids as well as other chemicals producing during the heating or vaporizing process. A study of some e-cigarette products found the vapor contains known carcinogens and toxic chemicals, as well as potentially toxic metal nanoparticles from the device itself. Risks of vaping and Health effects

Aren't e-cigarettes safer than traditional cigarettes?

E-cigarettes are not an FDA-approved quit aid (there are several others) and there is no conclusive scientific evidence on the effectiveness of long-term cessation. While research suggests that vaping devices might be less harmful than traditional cigarettes when people who regularly smoke switch to them as a complete replacement, safer does not mean safe. Basics of e-cigarettes

Can you become addicted to e-cigarettes/vapes?

Yes. Nicotine is a highly addictive substance and you can become addicted to it just like other drugs. Over time nicotine can change the way your brain works. The more you vape, the more your brain and body get used to having nicotine, and the harder it is to go without it. When you go without vaping, the nicotine level in your bloodstream drops, which may cause unpleasant feelings, physical symptoms, and strong urges to vape. Risk of addiction to e-cigarettes

Why is marijuana so dangerous to vape?

Aside from the risks to a person’s brain development and health, vaping marijuana is particularly dangerous as thousands of lung injuries and several deaths have been linked to vaping devices containing THC. Dangers of vaping marijuana

Prescription Drugs

What are prescription opioids?

Opioids are a class of drugs naturally found in the opium poppy plant. Some prescription opioids are made from the plant directly, and others are made by scientists in labs using the same chemical structure. Opioids are often used as medicines because they contain chemicals that relax the body and can relieve pain. Prescription opioids facts

What are the effects of prescription opioids?

In addition to the serious risks of opioid use disorder and overdose, the use of prescription opioids can have a number of side effects, even when taken as directed. Review these with your doctor, so you know what you may expect. Necessity and side effects of prescription opioids and Effects of misuse of pain medications

Can the use of prescription stimulants (ADHD medications) lead to addiction?

Prescription stimulants are medicines generally used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. They increase alertness, attention, and energy. Their misuse, including overdose, can also lead to psychosis, anger, paranoia, heart, nerve, and stomach problems. Prescription stimulant misuse can lead to a substance use disorder (SUD), which takes the form of addiction in severe cases, even when used as prescribed. Stimulants, their effects and the link to SUDs

How do I safely dispose of unused or expired prescription medications?

The best way to dispose of most types of unused or expired medicines (both prescription and over the counter) is to drop off the medicine at a drug take back site, location, or program immediately. Please review the FDA’s information on disposal of unused or expired medications. Do not flush medications down the toilet or sink, or throw them in the garbage. FDA safe disposal of medications

What is the connection between prescription medications and heroin use?

Anyone who takes prescription opioids can become addicted to them. You may also develop tolerance—meaning that over time you might need higher doses to relieve your pain, putting you at higher risk for a potentially fatal overdose. You can also develop physical dependence—meaning you have withdrawal symptoms when the medication is stopped. The relationship between prescription opioid abuse and increases in heroin use is under scrutiny. Because the two have similar effects, as prescription opioids become less available, the availability and low cost of heroin drive increased usage. Heroin and prescription opioids

Do I have to use prescription opioids to manage or treat pain?

Opioid medications are not the only way to treat pain. Discuss with your doctor all pain treatment options, including ones that do not involve prescription medications. Tell your doctor about your medical history including if you or anyone in your family has a history of substance misuse or addiction to drugs or alcohol. It is important to understand all of the risks and benefits of taking prescription opioids. See the CDC patients' FAQs and information about pain medications

Can you become addicted to prescription pain medications?

Repeated misuse of prescription opioids can lead to a substance use disorder (SUD), a medical illness which ranges from mild to severe and from temporary to chronic. Addiction is the most severe form of an SUD. An SUD develops when continued misuse of the drug changes the brain and causes health problems and failure to meet responsibilities at work, school, or home. Read about Prescription opioid use and the risk of using heroin View the FDA's timeline of activities addressing the opioid epidemic

Heroin and Fentanyl

What drives heroin use?

One main factor is availability. While efforts to reduce the availability of opioids have begun to show success, the supply of heroin has been increasing. Since prescription opioids and heroin have similar chemical properties and physiological effects, there is no real difference to the user. People transitioning from the abuse of prescription opioids will often use heroin because it is cheaper and more available. Heroin facts

What is Naloxone (Narcan) and what is it used for?

Naloxone is a medicine that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose. It is an opioid antagonist. This means that it attaches to opioid receptors and reverses and blocks the effects of other opioids. Naloxone can quickly restore normal breathing to a person if their breathing has slowed or stopped because of an opioid overdose. Naloxone is a temporary treatment and its effects do not last long. Therefore, it is critical to obtain medical intervention as soon as possible after administering/receiving Naloxone facts and Information about side effects

Where can I get Naloxone?

Every state has different laws, but most pharmacies carry Naloxone (under the brand name Narcan) and will dispense it in accordance with certain protocols. It is recommended that family members and friends of those who are at risk of overdosing should carry this medication as it can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. How to get trained to administer Naloxone and where to obtain it

What is fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine, but 50 to 100 times more potent. It is a prescription drug that is also made and used illegally. Synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are the most common drugs involved in overdose deaths in the U.S. Fentanyl facts

Why is fentanyl so dangerous?

Fentanyl is extremely potent and is often pressed into pills that resemble drugs like OxyContin or cut into heroin or other street drugs. The high potency of fentanyl greatly increases risk of overdose, especially if a person who uses drugs is unaware that a powder or pill contains fentanyl. Only a small amount constitutes a lethal dose. Why fentanyl is more deadly than heroin


What is an addiction?

Many people don't understand why or how other people become addicted to drugs. They may mistakenly think that those who use drugs lack moral principles or willpower and that they could stop their drug use simply by choosing to. In reality, drug addiction is a complex disease as drugs cause long-lasting changes in the brain. It is considered both a complex brain disorder and a mental/medical illness. Understanding addiction

Why do some people get addicted to substances and others do not?

No one factor can predict if a person will become addicted to drugs. A combination of factors – biology, environment, development – influence the risk for addiction. The more risk factors a person has, the greater the chance that taking drugs can lead to addition. Preventing and delaying substance use for as long as possible, along with addressing any underlying risk factors, are important ways to reduce the likelihood of problem substance use. Fostering your child’s coping skills, mental health and relationships, along with keeping them safe, can serve as protective factors. Risk factors of addiction and NIH/NIDA risk factors

What makes someone more likely to get addicted to substances?

Your body and its reactions to substances, using drugs when you are young, mental health issues, being influenced or pressured by peers, trouble at school or work, difficulty with making friends or socializing – these are all factors that may make a person more susceptible to developing an addiction. What makes someone more likely to get addicted to drugs

How do I know if my child is vulnerable to addiction?

Most people with addictions began using substances in their teen years. The brain does not fully develop until your mid-twenties and substance use during this period of time when the brain is undergoing massive changes and development can prime the brain to be more susceptible to addiction and other mental health disorders. How worried should I be about my child's drug use

Does addiction run in families?

Like genes you get from your parents for the color of your eyes or the shape of your nose, you can have genes that can increase your chance of becoming addicted to drugs. But it’s not all about genes. Children learn behaviors by watching their parents or older brothers and sisters, so if they see a parent or older sibling using substances, they may think it's OK. Addiction and genetics and NIH/NIDA nature and nurture

How is addiction a brain disorder?

Drugs change the way the brain works and such changes may last a long time. Addiction is an illness, and people from all backgrounds can get an addiction. It does not matter if you are rich or poor, what race or nationality you are, your sex or age – it can happen to anyone at any age, but the chances are higher when a person starts using drugs when they are young. What is an addiction


Can addiction be cured?

Addiction is a treatable disorder. Research on the science of addiction and treatment has led to methods that help people stop using drugs and lead productive lives.
Treatment, relapse and recovery
and The approaches to treatment

What types of treatment are available?

Treatment for substance use disorder can take place in different settings (inpatient or outpatient) and at different degrees of intensity. Typically, one’s treatment plan is designed to address their physical, psychological, emotional and social issues, in addition to their substance use. Types of treatment programs include outpatient, intensive outpatient program (IOP), partial hospitalization program (PHP), residential (rehab), and in-patient treatment. Treatment options

Can medication be used to treat addiction?

Yes, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the use of medications in combination with counseling and therapy for the treatment of substance use disorders (SUDs). Research shows that a combination of medication and therapy can successfully treat SUDs and, in some cases, sustain recovery and prevent or reduce opioid overdoses. Information on MAT

Where can I find treatment?

SAMHSA treatment provider finder and NIH/NIDA treatment and recovery resources

Law Enforcment

Will I get in trouble if I call 911 if someone is overdosing or in medical trouble?

Not necessarily. Overdose bystanders may not call for medical assistance for fear of being arrested for drug-related crimes. In response, some states have enacted "Good Samaritan" laws that create immunities or other legal protections for people who call for help in the event of an overdose. Check if your State has a Good Samaritan Law for overdoses

What can I do if I know someone who is doing something illegal (e.g. selling drugs)?

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration allows you to report suspected illegal drug activity safely and anonymously. Call your local DEA office or Anonymous tips can be submitted online to the DEA