Frequently Asked Questions

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.

How does NIDA fund research?

NIDA is one of 27 institutes and centers that comprise the National Institutes of Health (NIH). We fund meritorious and innovative scientific research on all aspects of drug use and addiction. Information on funding opportunities is available on the NIDA webpage, Funding Opportunities. All NIH funding opportunities, including grants, contracts, training awards, and small business opportunities, are posted in the NIH Guide. The NIH Guide also provides instructions on how to apply for funding. 

I’m working on a project for school about drug misuse. Where can I find information?

We have many resources that can help answer some of your questions. Please feel free to use any information you like and list the National Institute on Drug Abuse as the source. 

If you haven’t already looked at these, go to https://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts. There you’ll find a variety of publications for teens about drugs.

To better understand some of the patterns and changes in drug use among teens, take a look at the information from the Monitoring the Future (MTF) surveys. MTF is an annual survey of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders conducted by researchers at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, under a grant from NIDA. Tens of thousands of students from hundreds of public and private schools participated in the survey.

You might also want to look at the transcripts from our National Drugs & Alcohol Chat Day and Popular Chat Day Q & A pages to view students’ most popular questions about drug use and addiction and the answers from NIDA scientists. Each year, students from around the country – and the world – have an opportunity to submit questions to our researchers. Maybe some of them asked questions that will be useful for your project.

Also, look at Drugs & Health: NIDA’s Blog for Teens.

In addition, please feel free to quote Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, directly from her blog or Congressional Testimony.

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.   

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.

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.

The 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

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, with medications (for some addictions) and/or 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 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. 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.

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.

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. For example, nicotine has been connected with premature birth and low birth weight, as has the use of cocaine. Heroin exposure can result 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.

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.

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.

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 be treated with medications to ease the symptoms, but treating withdrawal is not the same as treating addiction.

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.

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 addictive drugs 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 for Teens website provides resources for teachers, students, and parents.

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.

What other federal agencies offer resources and information on substance use?

  • Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)
    Formerly called the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, AHRQ sponsors and conducts research to provide evidence-based health information for patients, healthcare providers, and policymakers alike. The agency's Web site makes it easier to find a wide variety of information ranging from children's health to choosing a health plan.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), located in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, is an agency of the Public Health Service, in the Department of Health and Human Services. It's mission: To promote health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Prevention Information Network (NPIN).
    CDC's, National Prevention Information Network is designed to facilitate sharing of HIV/AIDS, STD and TB information and resources.
  • Drug Abuse Treatment Outcome Study (DATOS)
    The Drug Abuse Treatment Outcome Study (DATOS) is NIDA's third national evaluation of treatment effectiveness. It is based on over 10,000 admissions during 1991-1993 to 96 community-based treatment programs in 11 large U.S. cities.
  • Drug Enforcement Administration
    The mission of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is to enforce the controlled substances laws and regulations of the United States and bring to the criminal and civil justice system of the United States, or any other competent jurisdiction, those organizations and principal members of organizations, involved in the growing, manufacture, or distribution of controlled substances appearing in or destined for illicit traffic in the United States; and to recommend and support non-enforcement programs aimed at reducing the availability of illicit controlled substances on the domestic and international markets. See also, the Drug Enforcement Administration Museum and Visitors Center
  • Healthfinder
    Healthfinder is a gateway consumer health information web site from the United States government.
  • HIV.gov
    One-stop access to U.S. Government information on HIV/AIDS.
  • Indian Health Service
    An agency of the Public Health Service, Department of Health and Human Services. The IHS provides a comprehensive health services delivery system for American Indians and Alaska Natives with opportunity for maximum tribal involvement in developing and managing programs to meet their health needs. The goal of the IHS is to raise the health status of American Indian and Alaska Native people to the highest possible level.
  • National Clearinghouse of Drug and Alcohol Information
    The National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI) is the information service of the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. NCADI is the world's largest resource for current information and materials about alcohol and other drugs.
  • National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS)
    The National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS) is one of the most extensive sources of information on criminal and juvenile justice in the world, providing services to an international community of policymakers and professionals. NCJRS is a collection of clearinghouses supporting all bureaus of the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs: the National Institute of Justice , the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the OJP Program Offices. It also supports the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
    The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, part of the National Institutes of Health.
  • The National Institute of Justice (NIJ)
    As the research agency of the Department of Justice, NIJ supports research, evaluation, and demonstration programs relating to drug abuse in the contexts of crime and the criminal justice system.
  • National Interagency Counterdrug Institute (NICI)
    NICI products and services support both the supply and demand reduction components of the National Drug Control Strategy as well as the emergency management community.
  • National Library of Medicine
    The National Library of Medicine is the world's largest library dealing with a single scientific/professional topic. It cares for over 4.5 million holdings (including books, journal, reports, manuscripts and audio-visual items). Also provides MEDLINEplus, a gold mine of up-to-date, quality health care information from the world's largest medical library, the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health.
  • National Women's Health Information Center (NWHIC)
    The National Women's Health Information Center (NWHIC) is a national clearinghouse for women's health, sponsored by the Office on Women's Health within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NWHIC is the only Federal, commercial-free, combined women's health web site and toll-free phone information center. NWHIC is committed to providing free, reliable information to women across America who are concerned about their health and bodies.
  • Office of Justice Programs
    Since 1984 the Office of Justice Programs has provided federal leadership in developing the nation's capacity to prevent and control crime, improve the criminal and juvenile justice systems, increase knowledge about crime and related issues, and assist crime victims. Includes the Office of Juvenile Justice and Deliquency Prevention.
  • The Office of National Drug Control Policy
    The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) was established by Act of Congress in 1988 and is organized within the Executive Office of the President. ONDCP is authorized to develop and coordinate the policies, goals, and objectives of the Nation's drug control program for reducing the use of illicit drugs. ONDCP engages in activities that both meet the requirements of its authorization and represent the values and commitments of the President and its Director. Also runs www.abovetheinfluence.com part of a national effort to prevent or reduce the use of drugs among young people.
  • Research Online Reporting Tools (NIH)
    RePORTer replaces CRISP at NIH and is a searchable database of federally funded biomedical research projects being conducted at universities, hospitals, and other research institutions.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Data Archive (SAMHDA).
    SAMHDA's purpose is to increase the utilization of substance abuse and mental health databases, therby encouraging their use to understand and assess the extent of alcohol, drug abuse, and mental health disorders and the nature and impact of related treament systems. Based at the University of Michigan's Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR).
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
    SAMHSA's mission is to assure that quality substance abuse and mental health services are available to the people who need them and to ensure that prevention and treatment knowledge is used more effectively in the general health care system.
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
    The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is the United States government's principal agency for protecting the health of all Americans and providing essential human services, especially for those who are least able to help themselves.
  • World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)
    The World Anti-Doping Agency was created to promote, coordinate, and monitor at the international level the fight against doping in sport in all its forms. WADA seeks to foster a doping-free culture in sport. It combines the resources of sports and governments to enhance, supplement, and coordinate existing efforts to educate athletes about the harms of doping, reinforce the ideal of fair play, and sanction those who cheat themselves and their sport.

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.