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What Is Addiction?

Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences.(1) It is considered a brain disorder, because it involves functional changes to brain circuits involved in reward, stress, and self-control. Those changes may last a long time after a person has stopped taking drugs. (2)

Addiction is a lot like other diseases, such as heart disease. Both disrupt the normal, healthy functioning of an organ in the body, both have serious harmful effects, and both are, in many cases, preventable and treatable. If left untreated, they can last a lifetime and may lead to death. (3)Biological factors that can affect a person’s risk of addiction include their genes, stage of development, and even gender or ethnicity. Scientists estimate that genes, including the effects environmental factors have on a person’s gene expression, called epigenetics, account for between 40 and 60 percent of a person’s risk of addiction. (4)

Affects of Addiction and Drug Abuse
  • an inability to cease using a drug

  • relationship problems

  • poor work or academic performance

  • difficulty maintaining personal hygiene

  • noticeable changes in appearance, such as extreme weight loss

  • increased impulsivity and risk-taking behaviors

  • loss of interest in formerly enjoyable activities

  • depression

  • anxiety

  • panic disorders

  • increased aggression

  • paranoia

  • hallucinations

  • Cardiovascular disease

  • Respiratory Problems 

  • Kidney Damage

  • Liver Disease 

  • Overdose

  • Death

  • Drug addiction has reached epidemic levels across the globe withapproximately 247 million drug users worldwide (6)

  • Nearly 841,000 people have died since 1999 from a drug overdose (7)

  • Overdose deaths involving opioids, including prescription opioids, heroin, and synthetic opioids (like fentanyl), have increased over six times since 1999 (7)

  • Over 81,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in the 12 months ending in May 2020-the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period.  Overdose deaths involving cocaine also increased by 26.5 percent. Overdose deaths involving psychostimulants, such as methamphetamine, increased by 34.8 percent  according to recent provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (8)

  • In the United States, over 10 percent of individuals 12 years of age and over have used an illicit drug in the past month (9)

  • One in 10 deaths among working-age adults aged 20–64 years are due to excessive alcohol use (10)

  • Excessive alcohol consumption is responsible for an average of 88,000 deaths each year. (11)

What Can You Do To Help?

EDUCATION: Drug use and addiction are preventable. Results from NIDA-funded research have shown that prevention programs involving families, schools, communities, and the media are effective for preventing or reducing drug use and addiction. Although personal events and cultural factors affect drug use trends, when young people view drug use as harmful, they tend to decrease their drug taking. Therefore, education and outreach are key in helping people understand the possible risks of drug use. Teachers, parents, and health care providers have crucial roles in educating young people and preventing drug use and addiction.

TREATMENT: As with most other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, asthma, or heart disease, treatment for drug addiction generally isn’t a cure. However, addiction is treatable and can be successfully managed. People who are recovering from an addiction will be at risk for relapse for years and possibly for their whole lives. Research shows that combining addiction treatment medicines with behavioral therapy ensures the best chance of success for most patients. Treatment approaches tailored to each patient’s drug use patterns and any co-occurring medical, mental, and social problems can lead to continued recovery.(12)

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Notes: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5, 2013 2- Goldstein RZ, Volkow ND. Dysfunction of the prefrontal cortex in addiction: neuroimaging findings and clinical implications. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2011;12(11):652-669. doi:10.1038/nrn3119 3-National Institute on Drug Abuse 4-Bevilacqua L, Goldman D. Genes and addictions. Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2009;85(4):359-361. doi:10.1038/clpt.2009.6 5-Medical News “What are the effects of drug abuse? 6-World Drug Report 2016, Rep. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, May 2016. Web. 2 August 2017. 7-CDC, “The Drug Overdose Epidemic, Behind the Numbers” 8-CDC, “Overdose Deaths Accelerating During COVID-19 9-National Center for Health Statistics." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 03 May 2017. Web. 2 August 2017. 10-“Alcohol Deaths." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 June 2014. Web. 2 August 2017.  11-Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d. Web. 2 August 2017 “Excessive alcohol use continues to be drain on American economy” 12- Wide-ranging online data for epidemiologic research (WONDER). Atlanta, GA: CDC, National Center for Health Statistics; 2020. Available at

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