Interested in making a call and want to know what will happen after you do? Read about where your call goes.

When substance abuse begins to take over your life, the best course of action is to seek help. If you are worried about your drug use or that of a loved one, we can help you make the change. Call our National Drug Helpline now to take the first step.

It’s not always easy admitting that you are struggling with an addiction. Just know that addiction can happen to anyone at any point in life. Some substances have a risk of being addictive, including commonly prescribed medications and painkillers. The opiate and opioid epidemic our nation is facing is due in part to the medications and painkillers that are being prescribed to everyday people.

Drug and alcohol addictions can affect your personal relationships and make it difficult to focus on work or school. Many people have their health, finances, relationships, careers and lives turned upside down by drug addiction. This is why a drug help hotline is such an important resource. If you, your child or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, it may be time to get help from a drug recovery program. Calling our national drugs helpline is a great way to start your recovery journey. If you aren’t ready to call, you can check out some of the free resources found on the CDC’s website.

Our hotline is staffed with friendly and understanding people who are here to help. We are here to talk you through anything you may be struggling with. Your call is anonymous and if you are ready to seek treatment for yourself or for a loved one, we can help you to navigate your options. Addiction is difficult to beat single handedly. Give us a call today, wherever you are in the nation, and let’s get through this together.

What is Addiction?

Addiction is a complex medical condition that is characterized by the compulsive use of harmful substances despite negative consequences.1 Addiction is also called substance use disorder. People can develop an addiction to various illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and ecstasy, as well as prescription medications like opioid pain killers, tranquilizers (sleeping pills), and prescription stimulants. Alcohol, marijuana, and nicotine are also addictive substances and are included in substance use disorders.

Addiction often starts with the experimental use of recreational drugs in social situations, often under peer pressure. For some people, it stops there. For others, drug use continues and becomes more frequent over time. As time goes on, the person needs larger doses of the drug to get the same high (this is called tolerance). Soon, it becomes difficult to go on without the drug. Over time, drug use increases in amount and frequency. At this stage, attempts to quit using may cause intense cravings and make the person physically ill with uncomfortable symptoms (these are called withdrawal symptoms). Physical and psychological dependence on the drug and fear of withdrawal symptoms drives drug abusers to continue using.

People with severe substance use disorders (drug addiction or alcoholism) are intensely focused on obtaining and using the substance of abuse to the point that it consumes their life. The continued use of harmful drugs and alcohol, despite knowing that it will cause all kinds of problems, is a characteristic feature of addiction. It usually requires professional treatment at a drug rehab facility to help people with substance use disorders recover from addiction.

Addiction Statistics in the United States

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is a leading authority on advancing addiction science and monitoring the trends regarding drug and alcohol use in the United States. NIDA conducts the National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), which over the past several years has shown that the top 3 substances abused by Americans are alcohol (87%), tobacco (63%), and illicit drugs (51%), followed closely by marijuana (47%).

Adolescents and young adults are the future of the country, and drug and alcohol addiction in this age group are particularly concerning. Monitoring the Future is an annual survey of teenagers in the US to measure how young people are using drugs, alcohol, and nicotine. In 2019, roughly 42,000 students participated in the survey. 2 More than half of all 12th graders reported alcohol use in the past year. Roughly 38% reported illicit drug use, with marijuana being the most commonly used drug (35%). More than 6% of 12th graders reported daily marijuana use. There is some good news, however. Prescription drug misuse (Vicodin, OxyContin) among teenagers had risen to worrisome levels in 2003 with about 10% of 12th graders reporting Vicodin use within the past year. In 2019, this number had fallen to less than 2%. Similarly, Adderall (prescription stimulant) use among teenagers has improved from about 7% in 2014 to less than 4% in 2019.

Addiction puts people at risk of drug overdose deaths. Drug overdoses are the leading cause of injury-related preventable deaths in the United States. More than 70,000 Americans die of drug overdoses each year.3 According to the Surgeon General of the United States, one in seven Americans is battling substance use disorders, but only 10% receive the necessary addiction treatment. The cost of addiction in the United States is estimated to be $600 billion annually. 4

Addiction and the Human Brain

Addiction is a physical and psychological dependence on drugs or alcohol. People with addiction pursue the habit even to the point of putting themselves and their loved ones in harm’s way. Many people with substance use disorders are aware they have a problem but cannot stop alcohol or drug use. Why do addicts struggle with quitting drugs or alcohol? The answer lies in the science of addiction and the chemistry of the addicted brain.

Illicit drugs and alcohol produce temporary feelings of euphoria. Dependence on these substances is almost as old as the human race itself. Addiction to harmful substances consists of three stages: anticipation, intoxication, and withdrawal. Each of these stages feeds into the other and becomes more intense over time, ultimately leading to a substance use disorder.5

Different drugs have distinct patterns of addiction and the severity varies with dose and length of use. Addiction affects many organs in the body but the maximum impact is on the brain. As the addiction to drugs or alcohol progresses over time, changes occur in the brain chemistry and brain circuitry of the user. When an individual uses an illicit drug, the brain is flooded with feel-good chemicals such as dopamine, which activate the brain’s natural reward system. With repeated use of the drug, the brain stops naturally producing dopamine that it would normally make. 6This makes it difficult for the person to find pleasure in enjoyable activities without drugs or alcohol. The person begins to crave the intense feelings of pleasure and reward produced by the drug. It is this chemical imbalance that causes addicts to spiral out of control.

Risk Factors and Causes of Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Addiction is a disease, and like many diseases, several factors contribute to its development. The factors that lead to alcohol and drug addiction are broadly classified as environmental and genetic factors.

Millions of people are exposed to addictive substances every year, but the vast majority do not develop an addiction. What makes some people more likely to experiment with illegal drugs and progress toward a harmful pattern of use?

Studies in adoptive and twin families show that genetics plays a major role in the development of substance use disorders. In other words, addiction tends to run in families. If a person has a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, with a drug or alcohol addiction, they are at greater risk of developing an addiction themselves. Scientists have identified genes which, for example, increase the risk of smoking in adolescents by threefold. 7

Also, studies show there is often an overlap in genetic influences for various types of addictions, for example, alcoholism and illicit drug use. A pre-existing addiction, therefore, predisposes a person to develop another type of addiction.

Psychiatric conditions like conduct disorder, depression, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), increase the risk of developing problematic substance abuse and addiction. Using drugs can become a way of coping with the painful emotions associated with these mental disorders.

However, genetics and mental disorders are not the only factors that influence drug and alcohol abuse. Environmental factors play a key role in why some people struggle with addiction and others do not. Some of the extrinsic factors that can influence addiction include: 8

  • Easy availability of drugs and alcohol
  • Peer pressure (especially in young people)
  • Age at first use (the earlier in life a person first uses alcohol or drugs, the higher is the risk of developing drug dependence later in life 9
  • Exposure to trauma or adversity, difficult life situations
  • Lack of social support
  • The LGBTQ community are more likely to suffer from addiction compared to the sexual majority
  • Family dynamics (lack of parental supervision in teenagers)
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Type of drug used (some drugs, such as cocaine and opioid painkillers, are highly addictive and can result in more rapid development of dependence than other so-called “light” drugs like marijuana).

If you look at the list above, it becomes clear why so many rock stars and celebrities battle addiction. They have no shortage of money, easy access to drugs, grueling schedules, constant pressure to succeed, and a culture that encourages substance use, all of which combine to form a cocktail of abuse and addiction that sometimes proves deadly.

Recognizing Addiction in a Loved One

When a person is in the grips of severe alcohol or drug addiction, they are unable to help themselves. It is often the responsibility of family members and friends to spot addiction in a loved one. Recognizing addiction is an important first step in getting the affected person the help they need to recover. Possible signs and symptoms that a loved one may be using drugs include:

  • Poor performance at work or school, such as missed deadlines, incomplete assignments, a drop in grades, or job loss.
  • Money issues, such as a sudden unexplained need for large sums of money, borrowing or stealing money, or selling things from the home to support the drug habit.
  • Physical signs, such as increased energy, restlessness, sluggishness, drowsiness, slurred speech, flushed skin, red eyes, dry mouth, trembling hands, weight loss, dilated pupils, poor hygiene, bad hair/skin/teeth, track marks from IV drug use.
  • Behavioral and psychiatric signs like lack of inhibition, poor judgment, memory problems, changes in sleep patterns, confusion, blackouts, anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations, agitation, violent behavior.
  • Changes in personality, such as lack of interest in previously enjoyed hobbies, increased secrecy and alienation, neglecting relationships, and taking unnecessary risks.
  • Presence of drug paraphernalia hidden in the home, such as pipes, water pipes, chillums, miniature spoons, injection needles, and papers used to roll joints.

Identifying drug or alcohol abuse early allows the person to get help before the potentially irreversible consequences of addiction occur, such as acquiring an infection like HIV through shared needles, losing employment, permanently damaging relationships, getting arrested or incarcerated, damaging one’s reputation, or losing custody of a child. With time, family and children of the addict become severely impacted by the behavior . 10

Common Addictions in the United States

Addiction impacts the lives of millions of Americans and claims thousands of lives each year. According to SAMHSA, nearly 165 million people in the US are substance users within the past month (tobacco, alcohol, or illicit drugs).11 Some addictions are more common and more deadly than others. Here are some of the most common substances that people in the United States are addicted to.


Approximately 140 million Americans report alcohol use within the past month, 67 million are binge drinkers, and close to 17 million are heavy drinkers. Alcoholism claims 88,000 lives each year in the US. It affects people across age, gender, race, and socioeconomic status. Excessive use of alcohol is linked to more than 200 diseases and injury conditions. Alcohol use disorder, which affects 15 million Americans, can affect the brain, heart, liver, and pancreas, cause many types of cancers, and weaken the immune system.  While the prevalence of alcoholism is higher in men, women are at greater risk of severe brain and other organ damage from alcohol addiction. 12


Nearly 60 million Americans are current smokers, the majority being cigarette smokers. An estimated 672,000 adolescents (aged 12-17) report smoking cigarettes within the past month. Tobacco products are easily available and contain as many as 5,000 chemicals, dozens of which have been linked to heart disease, lung disease, and cancer.13 Globally, a third of the world’s population smokes and every sixth human being on earth is a smoker. Smoking accounts for 30% of all cancer deaths and 87% of lung cancer deaths.14 Despite the dangers of cigarette smoking, the tobacco lobby in the United States is a powerful political force and works behind the scenes to advance a pro-tobacco agenda, so that tobacco products can be sold to the American public without hindrance from lawmakers. 15


The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) in 2018 found that more than 43 million Americans had used marijuana in the past year, corresponding to nearly 16% of the population. The legalization of recreational marijuana use in the US was kicked off by Colorado in 2012. At the beginning of 2020, it was legal to buy and consume weed recreationally in 11 US states plus D.C. However, despite the increasing legalization by more and more US states, marijuana has many short- and long-term effects on the human brain. 16 The active psychotropic ingredient in marijuana, THC, can alter senses, change mood, and impair memory and thinking. High doses of marijuana can cause hallucinations, delusions, and psychosis.

Prescription Opioids

Opiate abuse has increased dramatically in the United States over the past couple of decades. Approximately 10 million people misused prescription pain relievers, such as Vicodin, Percocet, and OxyContin, in the US within the past year based on SAMHSA estimates in 2018. The number of prescriptions written for opioid pain pills increased from 76 million in 1991 to 219 million in 2011, making the US the world’s largest consumer of opioids pain relievers. These powerful drugs work by blocking pain signals and releasing large amounts of dopamine in the human brain. Repeated misuse of prescription pain relievers can lead to addiction, which is associated with a variety of health complications. 17

Although methadone and suboxone are often used to treat serious addictions, they can also be addictive if abused.


Benzodiazepines (benzos) are a class of drugs used to treat panic attacks, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. Most individuals who are prescribed benzos take them as directed, but some people misuse and abuse these drugs and develop an addiction to them. An estimated 5.4 million Americans misused prescription benzodiazepines in the past year, including nearly 400,000 adolescents (aged 12-17), according to SAMHSA’s 2018 survey. Benzodiazepine abuse often occurs as part of polysubstance abuse, where benzos are used to enhance the effects of other drugs, putting the users at risk of drug overdose and death.18 Despite the risks of abuse and addiction, benzos continue to play an important role in pharmacotherapy for anxiety disorders. 


Cocaine is a highly-addictive stimulant drug that is sold on the street as crack, snow, rock, coke, and blow. According to SAMHSA, an estimated 5.5 million Americans are past year users of cocaine, including 112,000 adolescents (aged 12-17). Cocaine floods the human brain with dopamine19, leading to feelings of extreme happiness and energy. However, long-term use of cocaine is associated with several health effects and the risk of overdose and death. Street dealers often mix cocaine with harmful substances to increase profits, putting the lives of cocaine users at risk. People who are addicted to cocaine need stronger and more frequent doses of the drug over time to feel the same high. They experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms if they decrease or stop cocaine use. Treatment at a drug rehab facility is usually necessary to recover from cocaine addiction.

Prescription Stimulants

Prescription stimulants, such as Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta, and Dexedrine, are medications used to treat conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy (uncontrolled excessive sleepiness). 20 Surveys have found that roughly 5 million people in America report past-year misuse of prescription stimulants, including nearly 400,000 adolescents aged 12-17. College students and busy professionals often misuse prescription stimulants to improve performance through increased alertness, energy, and attention. Popular slangs for these drugs are uppers, speed, and vitamin R. However, misuse of prescription stimulants can lead to harmful health effects, including heart problems, psychosis, and addiction.


Ecstasy (MDMA or Molly) is a hallucinogenic drug that produces feelings of warmth, pleasure, and energy, along with a distortion in the perception of time and senses. An estimated 5.6 million Americans, corresponding to 2% of the population, reported past year hallucinogen use on the 2018 NSDUH survey. MDMA (ecstasy) was initially a popular party drug but is now abused by a broader demographic of Americans. Commonly called Molly, ecstasy increases the activity of brain chemicals, dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, which are associated with pleasure, elevated mood, and reward. However, MDMA can affect the body’s temperature regulation system and damage the kidneys, liver, and heart, sometimes even leading to death.21


Heroin is an opioid drug made from the seeds of the opium poppy plant. It is sold on the street as big H, smack, hell dust, and horse. The 2018 SAMHSA survey found that an estimated 800,000 Americans used heroin in the past year. Heroin is abused because it binds to opioid receptors in the human brain and produces temporary feelings of euphoria. However, long-term heroin abuse can lead to addiction and a variety of health effects. Drug dealers often cut heroin with additives to increase its street value, which can prove dangerous for users. If a person overdoses on heroin, it can lead to a life-threatening slowing down of breathing, coma, permanent brain damage, and even death.22


Methamphetamine (meth, crystal meth) is a powerful and highly addictive stimulant drug that is abused by smoking, snorting, swallowing, and injecting. In 2018, approximately 1.9 million Americans reported using methamphetamine in the past year. Methamphetamine causes a rapid release of large amounts of dopamine in the brain, leading to a temporary rush or high.23 However, long-term meth abuse is linked to several health complications. Most of the meth sold in the United States is made by drug cartels in Mexico. Meth is also manufactured in small, illegal, often makeshift labs with relatively inexpensive ingredients like pseudoephedrine (which is found in cold medications). However, drug production in these clandestine meth labs releases dangerous fumes into the air and can result in deadly explosions and fires.

Dangers of Addiction

The short- and long-term health effects of addiction to alcohol and illicit drugs are significant. Addiction can cause irreparable damage to various organ systems in the human body. Highly addictive drugs can induce psychotic behavior, seizures, coma, and death due to overdose. Long-term use can lead to permanent brain damage. Moreover, street drugs often contain unknown substances that can be harmful to users. Contamination during illegal manufacture of drugs can also put the lives of drug users at risk. In addition to the physical and mental health effects, drug and alcohol addiction can lead to various life-changing complications, including:

  • IV drug users can acquire infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis B and C through shared needles or unsafe sex under the influence of drugs.
  • People who use illicit drugs or excessive alcohol are at risk of accidents and injuries, for example, from driving under the influence or doing other dangerous activities while intoxicated.
  • People with drug or alcohol abuse and addiction attempt suicide nearly six times more than people who do not have a substance use disorder.24
  • Addiction to drugs and alcohol affects every aspect of a person’s life, including relationships. Alcohol and drug abuse can lead to family problems, marital conflict, divorce, and child custody issues.
  • Drug addiction can lead to problems at work or school with loss of employment or poor academic performance.
  • Legal problems are common among people battling alcoholism and drug addiction, arising from buying illegal substances, stealing to support the habit, driving under the influence, and other illegal or unethical behaviors.
  • Financial difficulties in addicts can stem from spending money to procure drugs or alcohol to the point of neglecting other needs and leading to debt.

The good news is that drug and alcohol addiction is preventable and treatable. Alcohol should be consumed responsibly. Prescription medications should always be taken exactly as prescribed by a physician. And family members and friends should be vigilant for signs of illegal drug and alcohol addiction in their loved ones.

Getting help

When drugs are used over periods of time, the brain changes in response to prolonged exposure to those drugs. Cravings tend to get stronger and withdrawals tend to get worse. This physiological reality makes quitting very difficult for anyone. Thanks to modern day drug and alcohol treatment, there is no reason to go through the recovery process alone. These programs provide people with the support that they need to rehabilitate and can be easily accessed with a call to our drug rehab hotline.

What should I expect when calling the helpline?

Making the call can be tough. Whether the call is for you or for a loved one, we understand that it can be one of the hardest moments of your life. We are here to talk you through your options. Whether this is your first time calling an addiction hotline, or you have gone down this path before, we are here to help. Addiction is a disease that can affect any type of person in any walk in life. Just know that you are not alone and there are others out there that are struggling with addiction as well. The stigma associated with addiction may make it difficult to talk to friends and family about substance abuse, but our addiction helpline is here so you can talk to someone. Calling and talking is a great first step to recovery. There are no commitments when calling. Sometimes it’s good to hear yourself talk about the substance abuse struggles that you or a loved one may be facing to help organize your thoughts and feelings. Our national addiction hotline is here to take your call.

Please note: The National Drug Helpline is not a crisis number. If you are experiencing a crisis or life threatening situation, call 911.

At what stage should I get help?

Many people think that they have to reach rock bottom before they seek help. This is a common and dangerous misconception. The truth is that it is never too soon to get help. The earlier substance abusers realize they may have a problem, the better the chances of success. As time goes on, continued substance abuse may make recovery a much longer and much more difficult process. Ultimately, prevention is the best solution to addiction, but for those who are currently struggling, we are here to help.

We are here to help. If you want to discuss treatment options, talk about how to approach someone you love that may be struggling with addiction, talk about rehab costs and paying, or just want to talk; then give us a call today. Our drug abuse hotline number is free to call, anonymous and confidential. The journey toward recovery can start today with a simple phone call.

Treatment options

There are multiple options for alcohol and drug recovery. You can find treatment programs that address specific drugs, programs that are tailored to people of different genders, programs that are faith based and many others. The diversity of treatment options available means that you can find one that fits your exact needs. If you would like to speak to someone to help better understand your options, you can call a drug rehab helpline or a drug treatment hotline, such as ours.

There are two primary options when it comes to recovery, an inpatient recovery program or an outpatient recovery program. If you decide to be admitted into an outpatient recovery program, you can simultaneously attend counseling, therapy and treatment while continuing to live your life at home. If you decide to be admitted into an inpatient program, you will have the opportunity to step away from life for a little bit, so that you can fully focus on your addiction recovery. We understand that this choice is a difficult one, but we are here to help. You can call our addiction recovery hotline to discuss the differences between inpatient and outpatient recovery.

What other organizations can help?

You can also try some of the following addiction hotline numbers:


  1. American Psychiatric Association. What is Addiction? No date. Available online.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Monitoring the Future 2019 Survey Results: Overall Findings. No date. Available online.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Drug Overdose Epidemic. No date. Available online.
  4. Herman MA, Roberto M. The addicted brain: understanding the neurophysiological mechanisms of addictive disorders. Front Integr Neurosci. 2015;9:18. Published 2015 Mar 19. doi:10.3389/fnint.2015.00018
  5. Herman MA, Roberto M. The addicted brain: understanding the neurophysiological mechanisms of addictive disorders. Front Integr Neurosci. 2015;9:18. Published 2015 Mar 19. doi:10.3389/fnint.2015.00018
  6. Diana M. The dopamine hypothesis of drug addiction and its potential therapeutic value. Front Psychiatry. 2011;2:64. Published 2011 Nov 29. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2011.00064
  7. Ducci F, Goldman D. The genetic basis of addictive disorders. Psychiatr Clin North Am. 2012;35(2):495-519. doi:10.1016/j.psc.2012.03.010
  8. Ducci F, Goldman D. The genetic basis of addictive disorders. Psychiatr Clin North Am. 2012;35(2):495-519. doi:10.1016/j.psc.2012.03.010
  9. Newton-Howes G, Boden JM. Relation between age of first drinking and mental health and alcohol and drug disorders in adulthood: evidence from a 35-year cohort study [published correction appears in Addiction. 2019 Nov;114(11):2089]. Addiction. 2016;111(4):637-644. doi:10.1111/add.13230
  10. Lander L, Howsare J, Byrne M. The impact of substance use disorders on families and children: from theory to practice. Soc Work Public Health. 2013;28(3-4):194-205. doi:10.1080/19371918.2013.759005
  11. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States. Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. No date. Available online.
  12. Ceylan-Isik AF, McBride SM, Ren J. Sex difference in alcoholism: who is at a greater risk for development of alcoholic complication?. Life Sci. 2010;87(5-6):133-138. doi:10.1016/j.lfs.2010.06.002
  13. Talhout R, Schulz T, Florek E, van Benthem J, Wester P, Opperhuizen A. Hazardous compounds in tobacco smoke. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2011;8(2):613-628. doi:10.3390/ijerph8020613
  14. Furrukh M. Tobacco Smoking and Lung Cancer: Perception-changing facts. Sultan Qaboos Univ Med J. 2013;13(3):345-358. doi:10.12816/0003255
  15. Givel MS, Glantz SA. Tobacco lobby political influence on US state legislatures in the 1990s. Tob Control. 2001;10(2):124-134. doi:10.1136/tc.10.2.124
  16. Zehra A, Burns J, Liu CK, et al. Cannabis Addiction and the Brain: a Review. J Neuroimmune Pharmacol. 2018;13(4):438-452. doi:10.1007/s11481-018-9782-9
  17. Cicero TJ, Ellis MS. The prescription opioid epidemic: a review of qualitative studies on the progression from initial use to abuse. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2017;19(3):259-269.
  18. Schmitz A. Benzodiazepine use, misuse, and abuse: A review. Ment Health Clin. 2016;6(3):120-126. Published 2016 May 6. doi:10.9740/mhc.2016.05.120
  19. Nestler EJ. The neurobiology of cocaine addiction. Sci Pract Perspect. 2005;3(1):4-10. doi:10.1151/spp05314
  20. Weyandt LL, Oster DR, Marraccini ME, et al. Prescription stimulant medication misuse: Where are we and where do we go from here?. Exp Clin Psychopharmacol. 2016;24(5):400-414. doi:10.1037/pha0000093
  21. Kalant H. The pharmacology and toxicology of “ecstasy” (MDMA) and related drugs. CMAJ. 2001;165(7):917-928.
  22. Hosztafi S. A heroin addikció [Heroin addiction]. Acta Pharm Hung. 2011;81(4):173-183.
  23. Galbraith N. The methamphetamine problem: Commentary on … Psychiatric morbidity and socio-occupational dysfunction in residents of a drug rehabilitation centre. BJPsych Bull. 2015;39(5):218-220. doi:10.1192/pb.bp.115.050930
  24. Dragisic T, Dickov A, Dickov V, Mijatovic V. Drug Addiction as Risk for Suicide Attempts. Mater Sociomed. 2015;27(3):188-191. doi:10.5455/msm.2015.27.188-191