The Basics: Overview
If you’re worried about your drug use, talk with a doctor about getting help.
What is drug misuse?
Drug misuse includes:
- Using illegal drugs, like heroin or cocaine
- Using prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) drugs to get high
Misusing drugs can lead to drug addiction (also called drug use disorder). Drug addiction is a chronic (long-term) disease that makes it very hard to stop using drugs.
If you have a drug problem, you aren’t alone. Drug addiction is a common health problem that affects millions of adults in the United States every year.
The good news is that you can get treatment for drug addiction. Getting help is the best thing you can do for yourself and your loved ones.
The Basics: Drug Addiction
Drug addiction is an illness that involves the brain. Drugs can change how you think, feel, and behave — and some of these changes can last a long time.
Drug addiction is a chronic disease — it may never go away completely. People with drug addiction who stop taking drugs often relapse (start taking drugs again) along the road to recovery. But treatment can help you manage your addiction and live a longer, healthier life.
The Basics: Am I at Risk?
How can I tell if I’m at risk for drug addiction?
Any amount of drug misuse can put you at risk for drug addiction. Some drugs are more addictive than other drugs, and some people get addicted more easily than other people. But it’s impossible to know who will become addicted and who won’t.
You may have a drug problem if any of these things are true:
- You can’t control how often you use drugs
- Drug use causes problems with your relationships, school, or work
- You feel anxious, stressed, or sick when you aren’t using drugs
Use these questions to see if you have signs of drug addiction. If you think you might have a drug problem, it’s important to see a doctor right away.
What are the risks of drug misuse?
The risks can depend on which drugs you misuse.
One of the most serious risks is an overdose, which can lead to death. You don’t need to be addicted to drugs to have an overdose. It can happen from using some drugs — like heroin or meth — just 1 time.
Overdoses are very common with certain drugs, like opioids. Opioids are a very addictive type of drug that includes prescription pain medicines like OxyContin and Vicodin. Tens of thousands of people die from opioid overdoses in the United States each year.
Drug misuse can also increase your risk for many other health problems, including:
- Heart disease
- HIV and other STDs
Drug misuse can also put you at risk for injury and violence.
Learn more about different drugs and their health risks.
The Basics: Prevention
The easiest way to prevent drug addiction is not to misuse drugs. It’s especially important not to misuse drugs if you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant.
Remember, prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines can be addictive, too. If you take medicine for a health condition, learn how to use medicines safely.
What if my doctor prescribes an addictive medicine?
Some prescription medicines — for example, opioid pain medicines like OxyContin or Vicodin — are very addictive. If your doctor prescribes opioids, ask about the risks and benefits. There may be a less addictive pain medicine you can try.
The Basics: Treatment
How is drug addiction treated?
There’s no cure for drug addiction — but there are effective treatments that can help you manage it. It can be treated with medicine, talk therapy, or both.
Treatment options depend on which drugs you’re misusing. You can get treatment for drug addiction at a hospital or rehab center where you stay overnight — or you can get treatment during the day while you’re living at home.
Medicines for drug addiction
Doctors can prescribe medicines to ease symptoms of withdrawal (feeling sick when you stop taking certain drugs).
If you’re addicted to opioids — including heroin or prescription opioid pain medicines — doctors can prescribe medicines to help you stay off drugs. Some of these medicines work by reducing cravings, and some work by blocking the high you get from the drug.
Therapy for drug addiction
A type of therapy called behavioral therapy can help you learn healthy ways to cope with stress and challenges in your life. Therapy is important to help you stay in treatment and avoid misusing drugs.
Take Action: See a Doctor
Drug addiction is a real disease, and people with drug addiction need treatment just like people with any other disease. If you’re worried about your drug use, see your doctor.
Talk to a doctor about what’s going on.
Get a medical checkup. Ask to see a doctor or nurse who can screen you for drug addiction.
The doctor or nurse may also check to see if you have any other health conditions (like depression) that can make it harder to stop misusing drugs. Getting help for other health problems can make a big difference in treating your addiction.
If you’ve injected drugs, talk with the doctor or nurse about getting tested for HIV and hepatitis. Injecting drugs can put you at risk for these conditions.
Take Action: Get Treatment
Get treatment for drug addiction.
When you have a drug problem, getting help is the best thing you can do. An addiction specialist can help you find the right program for you.
And if one type of treatment doesn’t work for you, you can try another. Don’t give up!
- Ask your doctor for a referral to an addiction specialist or treatment program
- Find a doctor or treatment program near you
- Call 1-800-662-HELP (1-800-662-4357) for information about treatment
Remember, drug addiction is an illness — and having this illness is not your fault. Asking for help may seem scary, but it's the first step toward getting your addiction under control.
What about cost?
Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance plans must cover mental health and drug addiction treatments. Check with your insurance company to find out what’s included in your plan. For information about mental health and drug treatment services covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit HealthCare.gov.
If you don’t have insurance, you can still get health care. Find a health center near you and make an appointment. Some programs offer free or low-cost treatment if you don't have insurance.
Take Action: Get Support
Get support for drug addiction.
You don’t have to face your drug problem alone. Ask your friends and loved ones to support you as you get treatment.
Support groups for people with drug addiction can also help you stick with your treatment plan. Learn more about support groups for drug addiction.
If someone you care about has a drug problem, get help.
If you think a friend or family member may have a drug problem, check out these tips on how to talk to a loved one about drug misuse.
Take Action: Prepare for an Opioid Overdose
Ask your doctor about medicine to reverse an overdose.
If you misuse opioids, you’re at risk for an opioid overdose. But a medicine called naloxone can reverse an overdose and save your life.
Naloxone only works if you take it soon after an overdose. Doctors can prescribe naloxone to people with opioid addiction and their family members. That way, if you overdose, people around you will be ready to help right away.
Content last updated August 2, 2021
This information on talking to your doctor about drug misuse is adapted from material from the United States Preventive Services Task Force and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Emily B. Einstein, PhD
Chief, Science Policy Branch
Office of Science Policy and Communications
National Institute on Drug Abuse