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General Information

DEFINITION--A compulsive and destructive use of mind-altering substances despite adverse medical, psychological and social consequences.

BODY PARTS INVOLVED--Central nervous system; liver; kidneys; blood.

SEX OR AGE MOST AFFECTED--All ages, except early childhood.


    Depends on the substance of abuse. Most produce:

  • A temporary, pleasant mood.
  • Relief from anxiety.
  • False feelings of self-confidence.
  • Increased sensitivity to sights and sounds (including hallucinations).
  • Altered activity levels--either stupor and sleeplike states or frenzies.
  • Unpleasant or painful symptoms when the abused substance is withdrawn.


    Substances of abuse may produce addiction (a physiological need) or dependence (a psychological need). The most common substances of abuse include:

  • Nicotine.
  • Alcohol.
  • Marijuana.
  • Amphetamines.
  • Barbiturates.
  • Cocaine.
  • Opiates, including codeine, heroin, methadone, morphine and opium.
  • Psychedelic drugs, including PCP ("angel dust"), mescaline and LSD.
  • Volatile substances, such as glue, solvents and paints.


  • Illness that requires prescription pain relievers or tranquilizers.
  • Family history of drug abuse.
  • Genetic factors (possibly). Some persons may be more susceptible to addiction.
  • Excess alcohol consumption.
  • Fatigue or overwork.
  • Poverty.
  • Psychological problems, including depression, dependency or poor self-esteem.


  • Don't socialize with persons who use and abuse drugs.
  • Seek counseling for mental-health problems, such as depression or chronic anxiety, before they lead to drug problems.
  • Develop wholesome interests and leisure activities.
  • After surgery, illness or injury, discontinue the use of prescription pain relievers and tranquilizers as soon as possible. Don't use more than you need.

What To Expect


  • Your own observation of symptoms.
  • Medical history and physical exam by a doctor.
  • Laboratory blood tests.


  • Doctor's treatment.
  • Psychotherapy or counseling.
  • Hospitalization for drug-withdrawal symptoms.


  • Sexually transmitted diseases, which are more likely among addicts.
  • Severe infections, such as endocarditis, hepatitis or blood poisoning, from intravenous injections with non-sterile needles.
  • Malnutrition.
  • Accidental injury to oneself or others while in a drug-induced state.
  • Loss of job or family.
  • Irreversible damage to body organs.
  • Death caused by overdose.

PROBABLE OUTCOME--Curable with strong motivation, good medical care and support from family and friends.

How To Treat


  • Admit you have a problem.
  • Seek professional help.
  • Be open and honest with your family and good friends, and ask their help.
  • Avoid friends who tempt you to resume your habit.
  • Join self-help groups.
  • See Resources for Additional Information.

MEDICATION--Your doctor may prescribe:

  • Disulfiram (Antabuse) for alcoholism. This drug produces severe illness when alcohol is consumed.
  • Methadone for narcotic abuse. This drug is a less-potent narcotic used to decrease the severity of physical withdrawal symptoms.

ACTIVITY--No restrictions. Exercise regularly and vigorously.

DIET--Eat a normal, well-balanced diet that is high in protein. Vitamin supplements may be necessary if you suffer from malnutrition.

Call Your Doctor If

  • You abuse or are addicted to drugs and want help.
  • New, unexplained symptoms develop. Drugs in treatment may produce side effects.
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