Drug Abuse & Addiction

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Drug abuse is continued misuse of drugs even when faced with drug-related job, legal, health or family difficulties. Drug addiction is long-term, compulsive drug use. You may attempt to stop using drugs, but repeatedly return to drug use despite physical, emotional or social harm. Drug dependence means that the body has begun to require the drug in higher doses to have the same effect and to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Risk Factors

Drug abuse and addiction are more common in young men but can occur in anyone at any age. Other factors that may increase the risk of drug abuse and addiction include:

  • Family members with substance abuse problems
  • Early antisocial behavior, such as breaking the law or repeated lying
  • Social and peer pressure, which may include spending time with other drug users
  • Stress
  • Easy access to drugs
  • Mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression and panic disorder

Symptoms of drug addiction include at least three of the following:

  • Craving the drug
  • Inability to stop or limit drug use
  • Tolerance (taking greater amounts to feel the same effect)
  • Withdrawal symptoms that occur when the drug is stopped
  • Significant amount of time trying to acquire drugs and recovering from the effects
  • Drug use continues even when it causes or worsens physical or mental health problems


While there’s no cure for drug abuse or dependence, there are three main treatment goals:

  • Help you stop using drugs
  • Decrease the toxic effects of the drugs being used and to aid in symptoms of drug withdrawal (detoxification)
  • Prevent relapse

Successful treatment depends on you being able to recognize that you have a problem and having the desire to change. In some cases, you may need to go through treatment several times.


Medication can help relieve withdrawal symptoms and reduce your risk of relapse.


Therapy can help raise your awareness of issues and lifestyle choices that lead you to abuse drugs. Through therapy, you can improve your coping skills and problem-solving skills. You can also learn how to replace drug-using activities with healthier choices. Additionally, there are many organizations and support groups dedicated to helping people become drug-free. 


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.