Step by Step Guides to Finding Treatment for Drug Use Disorders
How To Recognize a Substance Use Disorder

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How do I know if I have a drug use problem?

Addiction can happen at any age, but it usually starts when a person is young.  If you continue to use drugs despite harmful consequences, you could be addicted. It is important to talk to a medical professional about it—your health and future could be at stake.

Have friends or family told you that you are behaving differently for no apparent reason—such as acting withdrawn, frequently tired or depressed, or hostile? You should listen and ask yourself if they are right—and be honest with yourself. These changes could be a sign you are developing a drug-related problem. Parents sometimes overlook such signs, believing them to be a normal part of the teen years. Only you know for sure if you are developing a problem because of your drug use. Here are some other signs: 

  • hanging out with different friends
  • not caring about your appearance
  • getting worse grades in school
  • missing classes or skipping school
  • losing interest in your favorite activities
  • getting in trouble in school or with the law
  • having different eating or sleeping habits
  • having more problems with family members and friends

There is no special type of person who becomes addicted. It can happen to anyone.

See NIDA's video: Anyone Can Become Addicted to Drugs

Thanks to science, we know more than ever before about how drugs work in the brain, and we also know that addiction can be successfully treated to help young people stop using drugs and lead productive lives. Asking for help early, when you first suspect you have a problem, is important; don’t wait to become addicted before you seek help. If you think you are addicted, there is treatment that can work. Don’t wait another minute to ask for help.

Why can't I stop using drugs on my own?

Repeated drug use changes the brain. Brain imaging studies of drug-addicted people show changes in areas of the brain that are needed to learn and remember, make good decisions, and control yourself. Quitting is difficult, even for those who feel ready. NIDA has an excellent video (below) that explains why drugs are so hard to quit (hint: it’s all about the brain). If you aren't sure you are addicted, it would be helpful for you to look at this brief video. It helps explains why your inability to stop using drugs does not mean you’re a bad person, just that you have an illness that needs to be treated.

See NIDA's video: Why Are Drugs So Hard to Quit?

I don't feel well when I stop using drugs. Do treatment centers force people to stop taking drugs immediately?

Treatment is always based on the person's needs. However, if you are still using a drug when you are admitted to a treatment program, one of the first things addiction specialists need to do is help you safely remove drugs from your system (called "detox"). This is important because drugs impair the mental abilities you need to make treatment work for you.

When people first stop using drugs, they can experience different physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms, including depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders, as well as restlessness and sleeplessness. Remember that treatment centers are very experienced in helping you get through this process and keeping you safe and comfortable during it. Depending on your situation, you might also be given medications to reduce your withdrawal symptoms, making it easier to stop using.

I tried rehab once and it didn't work—why should I try it again?

If you have already been in rehab, it means you have already learned many of the skills needed to recover from addiction, and you should try it again. Relapsing (going back to using drugs after getting off them temporarily) does not mean the first treatment failed. People with all kinds of diseases relapse; people with other chronic diseases such as high blood pressure and asthma—which have both physical and behavioral components—relapse about as much as people who have addictions.

Treatment of all chronic diseases, including addiction, involves making tough changes in how you live and act, so setbacks are to be expected along the way. A return to drug use means treatment needs to be started again or adjusted, or that you might need a different treatment this time.

I don't like lying to my parents but, they don't understand me and my problems. If we talk about drugs, they will just yell at me. How can I avoid a fight?

First of all, remember that they were teens once, and they understand teen life more than you think. Secondly, when you first tell them about your problem, they might get angry out of fear and worry. They might raise their voices because they are very, very worried about you and your future. Try to stay calm and simply ask for help. Repeat over and over again that you need their help.

Parents do get angry when they find out their kids have been lying to them. You'd do the same! Be honest with them. Let them know you want to change and need their help.

I am also afraid my parents will take away the car keys—what can I do about that?

The single most responsible thing you can do is stop driving until you get help for your drug use. This might be inconvenient, but if you do drugs and drive, you could end up not only killing yourself but killing others as well. That could lead to a lifetime in prison. This is no different than drinking and driving. For more see our DrugFacts on drugged driving.

If you tell your parents that you are willing to give up your driving privileges, they will know you are serious about getting help.

NIDA Drugged Driving Infographic

Taking drugs helps me feel less depressed—what's wrong with that?

The relief you feel is only temporary and can cause more problems down the road, as your brain and body start to crave more and more drugs just to feel normal.  It is very possible you need to find treatment for your depression as well as for your drug use. This is very common. It is called "comorbidity" or "co-occurrence" when you have more than one health problem at the same time. For more information, see Drug Facts for Teens Co-Occurring Substance Use and Other Mental Health Issues

Be certain to tell your doctor about your drug use, as well as any depression or anxiety you feel, or any other mental health issues you are experiencing. There are many nonaddictive medicines that can help with depression or other mental health issues. Sometimes doctors do not talk to each other as much as they should. For example, a therapist you might be seeing for depression does not always consult with your pediatrician. So you need to be your own best friend and advocate—and make sure all of your health care providers know about all of the health issues that concern you. You should be treated for all of them at the same time.

Note: If you ever feel so depressed that you think about hurting yourself, there is a hotline you can call: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This is called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and you can share all of your problems with them. A caring, nonjudgmental voice will be on the other end, listening.