Frequently Asked Questions


What is drug addiction?

Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain—they change its structure and how it works. 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, often with medications (for some addictions) combined with 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.

How do I approach a loved one about their substance use?

It is important to approach someone whom you think may have a problem in a way that is non-confrontational at first. When you are upset with the person as a result of their drinking or use, is usually not the best time to discuss it with them. Wait until the next day then calmly express your concern without name calling, blaming, or accusing. Simply say that you care about them and you’ve noticed how their use is affecting their life. Say that you would like them to see if they can stop their use, and if they can’t, ask them to get professional help to stop. It is normal for those who abuse alcohol or drugs to react angrily when they are approached even in a gentle, caring manner. If you argue with them or become angry and lash out at them you only help them to focus on something besides their own use. If your initial approach to them does not seem to do any good, then seek out the assistance of close friends and family to help you speak to the person about their use. After your initial approach, don’t hesitate to seek the advice of a qualified professional counselor.

Am I enabling?

Enabling is offering “help” that actually hurts your addicted loved one. Enabling includes doing for your loved one what they are able to or should do for themselves. Some examples include paying their bills, taking care of their legal issues/expenses, allowing them to stay in your home, buying food for them on a regular basis, driving them places, calling in sick to work for them, or giving them money. It may seem cruel not to “help,” but enabling allows your drug addicted loved one to continue their destructive behavior. Enabling can be difficult to recognize, because we want what is best for our loved ones and want to show our love and support. Here are some Do’s and Don’ts to help recognize helpful versus enabling behavior.


  • Do set boundaries and stick to them.
  • Do take care of yourself, self-care is not selfish.
  • Do get support from places like Al-Anon, Nar-anon, Alateen, Co-Dependants Anonymous, as well as forms of family therapy when needed.
  • Do look into professional drug treatment and rehabilitation services.
  • Do educate yourself on addiction.
  • Do encourage your loved one to seek help.
  • Do support the recovery of your loved one.
  • Do remember the needs of other family members.
  • Do recognize that addiction is a disease.
  • Do make a commitment to stop enabling.


  • Don’t support your addicted loved one financially.
  • Don’t let their addiction take over your life.
  • Don’t lecture and intimidate.
  • Don’t try to control your addicted loved one.
  • Don’t give into manipulation.
  • Don’t shame or ridicule.
  • Don’t make excuses or “cover” for them.
  • Don’t blame yourself or others.
  • Don’t feel guilty.
  • Don’t wait and hope it gets better, take action now!

“The hardest thing I had to do was change the locks on my door.”

“I took an active stance on finding her whereabouts and notifying the police of any information that would lead to her capture. She was wanted for breaking her probation. I knew she was on the street using again.”

“You know MIMI, I don’t really know my mom at my older age.”
-8 year old child whose mother had been incarcerated since she was age 5

What are signs of substance abuse?

  • Failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home
  • Repeated absences or poor work performance
  • Neglect of children or household
  • Driving an automobile or operating a machine when impaired
  • Arrests for substance-related disorderly conduct
  • Interference with sleeping or eating
  • Avoiding people or places
  • Outbreaks of temper
  • General changes in overall attitude
  • Deterioration of physical appearance and grooming
  • Wearing of sunglasses at inappropriate times
  • Continual wearing of long-sleeved garments particularly in hot weather or reluctance to wear short sleeved attire when appropriate
  • Association with known substance abusers
  • Unusual borrowing of money from friends, co-workers or parents
  • Stealing small items from employer, home or school
  • Secretive behavior regarding actions and possessions; poorly concealed attempts to avoid attention and suspicion such as frequent trips to storage rooms, restroom, basement, etc. Signs & Symptoms

How quickly can I become addicted to a drug?

There is no easy answer because there are many different factors involved. A person’s genetic makeup (family history of alcoholism or addiction) clearly plays a role. In fact, that’s why some people seem to become addicted almost immediately, but for others, it may take more time. And, some drugs are more addictive than others. For some, one time use can prove to be fatal. Choosing to use drugs is like playing a game of chance. But, if you do, the earlier you stop, the more likely you will be to avoid addiction and the harmful brain changes that result.

Why do some drug users become addicted, while others don’t?

Risk factors for becoming drug addicted, like other conditions and diseases, vary from person to person. But, the common risk factors include: 1. Genetics- your family history, 2. Age when you start taking drugs, 3. Family (including abuse, neglect and traumatic experiences in childhood) and Social Environment (including access to drugs) and 4. Types of drugs used.

How do I know if someone is addicted to drugs?

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 abuse, then he or she probably is addicted. While people who are addicted may believe they can stop any time, most often they cannot, and will need professional help.

Does marijuana use lead to the use of other drugs?

While most marijuana smokers do not go on to use other illegal drugs, long-term studies of high school students show that few young people use other illegal drugs without first using marijuana. Using marijuana puts people in contact with people who are users and sellers of other drugs and are more likely to be exposed to and urged to try other drugs. Yes, marijuana is a plant but it has very real health consequences, including drug addiction. While some people think marijuana is a “harmless drug,” actual experience and the real science show a different reality. More teens are in treatment with a primary diagnosis of marijuana dependence than for all other illegal drugs combined.

Can you get addicted even though you only do it once in a while?

YES. For most, drug addiction is a process – not an event. Most people who use drugs do so with an intention of only using once or once in a while. No one decides that they want to be an addict. But, we are dealing with addictive drugs that directly affect the brain. It is easy for occasional use to change to frequent use or constant use- that is addiction. The only thing we know for sure – if you don’t do drugs, you definitely won’t become addicted.

Are over-the-counter (OTC) drugs dangerous?

All drugs, regardless of whether they are illegal, prescription or over-the-counter (available without a prescription), change your body and can be potentially harmful. Some over-the-counter drugs can cause serious problems or even death, if used incorrectly. The only safe way to take any over-the-counter medication is exactly as directed and for the specific problem for which it is intended. Example: OTC Cough and Cold Remedies: The health risks of abusing OTC cough and cold remedies include impaired judgment, nausea, loss of coordination, headache, vomiting, loss of consciousness, numbness, stomach pain, irregular heartbeat, seizures, panic attacks, cold flashes, dizziness, diarrhea, addiction, restlessness, insomnia, high blood pressure, coma, and death. Like any other drug, overdoses from over-the-counter medication can occur.

What drugs are the most commonly abused?

Each year, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) tracks drug use trends among high school students (8th, 10th and 12th grades) through the Monitoring the Future Study (MTF). The following is a list of the most commonly abused drugs among 12th graders starting with the most frequent: marijuana (21.4% of high school seniors used marijuana in the past 30 days….more than the number smoking cigarettes – 19.2%), Vicodin, amphetamines, cough medicine, Adderall, tranquilizers, salvia, hallucinogens, OxyContin, sedatives, MDMA- ecstasy, inhalants, cocaine and Ritalin.

Can a person be too young to become addicted to drugs?

No. Research and experience show that the younger someone starts using drugs, the greater the chance that they will become addicted.

Are prescription drugs dangerous?

All drugs are chemicals that affect the body and how it functions. Unfortunately, too many people don’t realize that prescription drugs can be as dangerous as street drugs. Prescription drugs require a prescription from a doctor because they are powerful substances, need to be regulated and taken under a physician’s care. Even if a person is prescribed a medication, taking more of that drug than the recommended dosage is dangerous, including accidental overdose. Medical supervision is needed to avoid dangerous drug interactions, as well as potentially serious side effects. Prescription drugs can be addictive. Between 1995 and 2005, treatment admissions for abuse of prescription pain relievers grew more than 300%. Using prescription drugs without a prescription and medical supervision is unsafe and illegal.

If a pregnant woman abuses drugs, does it affect the fetus?

Many substances including alcohol, nicotine, and other 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. Heroin exposure results in dependence in the newborn, requiring treatment for withdrawal symptoms.

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, medications. Treatment will vary for each person depending on the type of drug(s) being used. Multiple courses of treatment may be needed to achieve success.

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 describes the various symptoms that occur after long-term use of a drug is reduced or stopped abruptly. 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 does “co-dependent” mean?

Co-Dependent is a general term for those who unwittingly become involved in helping the addicted person to continue their chemically dependent lifestyle in a variety of ways. Becoming co-dependent is often described as “having a normal reaction to an abnormal situation”. Addiction changes the “rules” by which we normally conduct our relationships with others and as a result, attempts to adapt to those changes often end up discouraging any positive change. Co-Dependency can be resolved through individual counseling with a qualified mental health professional and as part of an overall plan for addressing addiction problems. Help involves understanding the process of addiction and its impact on others, then acknowledging co-dependent behaviors and making behavior change, while receiving support from others for that positive change.

Some examples of co-dependent behavior are:

    • Making repeated excuses for someone’s behavior while they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
    • Questioning whether you are really the “crazy one” when you observe the addicted person’s behaviors.
    • Attempts at removing the consequences of a person’s actions as a result of an addiction, thereby allowing them to continue in the same behaviors. For example; paying traffic tickets or calling in sick to work for them.
    • Blaming the addicted person’s behaviors on external factors like “she’s been under a lot of stress”

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