Many people view drug abuse and addiction as
strictly a social problem. Parents, teens, older adults, and other
members of the community tend to characterize people who take drugs
as morally weak or as having criminal tendencies. They believe that
drug abusers and addicts should be able to stop taking drugs if
they are willing to change their behavior.
These myths have not only stereotyped those with drug-related
problems, but also their families, their communities, and the
health care professionals who work with them. Drug abuse and addiction
comprise a public health problem that affects many people and
has wide-ranging social consequences. It is NIDA's goal to help
the public replace its myths and long-held mistaken beliefs about
drug abuse and addiction with scientific evidence that addiction
is a chronic, relapsing, and treatable disease.
Addiction does begin with drug abuse when an individual makes
a conscious choice to use drugs, but addiction is not just "a
lot of drug use." Recent scientific research provides overwhelming
evidence that not only do drugs interfere with normal brain functioning
creating powerful feelings of pleasure, but they also have long-term
effects on brain metabolism and activity. At some point, changes
occur in the brain that can turn drug abuse into addiction, a
chronic, relapsing illness. Those addicted to drugs suffer from
a compulsive drug craving and usage and cannot quit by themselves.
Treatment is necessary to end this compulsive behavior.
A variety of approaches are used in treatment programs to help
patients deal with these cravings and possibly avoid drug relapse.
NIDA research shows that addiction is clearly treatable. Through
treatment that is tailored to individual needs, patients can learn
to control their condition and live relatively normal lives.
Treatment can have a profound effect not only on drug abusers,
but on society as a whole by significantly improving social and
psychological functioning, decreasing related criminality and
violence, and reducing the spread of AIDS. It can also dramatically
reduce the costs to society of drug abuse.
Understanding drug abuse also helps in understanding how to prevent
use in the first place. Results from NIDA-funded prevention research
have shown that comprehensive prevention programs that involve
the family, schools, communities, and the media are effective
in reducing drug abuse. It is necessary to keep sending the message
that it is better to not start at all than to enter rehabilitation
if addiction occurs.
A tremendous opportunity exists to effectively change the ways
in which the public understands drug abuse and addiction because
of the wealth of scientific data NIDA has amassed. Overcoming
misconceptions and replacing ideology with scientific knowledge
is the best hope for bridging the "great disconnect"
- the gap between the public perception of drug abuse and addiction
and the scientific facts.