Now Accepting Blue Cross Blue Shield. Call Today!

Drug Addiction and Treatment

Last Updated: November 6, 2023

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

According to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 9.4 percent of Americans aged 12 and older reported past-month illicit drug use in 2013. While drug abuse and addiction have come into the national spotlight recently — especially opioid addiction — the problem is widespread. But help and hope are more available now than ever.

Drug addiction and the best approach to treatment can vary depending on a person’s age and the drugs involved. Below, you’ll find information on some of the most popular illicit drugs as well as their short- and long-term effects. When it comes to seeking treatment, there are many options to consider. You should look for a treatment center that offers a full continuum of care and a variety of evidence-based therapies.

Find A Rehab Center Near You

Most Popular Illicit Drugs

The latest results from the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health reveals the most commonly used drugs as well as statistics on how drug use trends have changed over time. Of the 27.1 million people who said they had used illicit drugs in the past month in 2015, more than 22.2 million reported using marijuana. The number of people 12 and older who used heroin in the past year increased from 404,000 in 2002 to 681,000 in 2013. The use of other illicit drugs, such as cocaine, meth and hallucinogens, has stayed largely the same since the mid-2010s.

Numbers of Past Month Illicit Drug Users 12 or Older, 2014

  • Marijuana and hashish: 22.2 million
  • Pain relievers: 4.3 million
  • Tranquilizers: 1.9 million
  • Stimulants: 1.6 million
  • Cocaine: 1.5 million
  • Hallucinogens: 1.2 million
  • Inhalants: 500,000
  • Heroin: 400,000
  • Sedatives: 300,000

Source: 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health

Common Drugs and Their Effects

In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 47,000 drug overdose deaths. That’s more than any other year on record. Here’s how the top eight most commonly used drugs affect the brain and the body:


As of 2016, recreational marijuana is legal in eight states, and medical marijuana in 28 states. Access to the drug is more widespread than ever. However, the research regarding marijuana’s medical benefits is still widely inconclusive. Marijuana’s calming and euphoric effects come from THC and other chemicals found in the plant. Other effects include heightened sensory perception, laughter, altered time perception and increased appetite. However, not all individuals who use marijuana experience pleasant side effects. Anxiety, fear, distrust, paranoia and panic are also effects of the drug. More vulnerable individuals may be prone to longer-lasting psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia.


The two main types of tranquilizers are benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Klonopin and Valium — which are generally prescribed to treat anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia and seizures — and barbiturates, a type of sedative that has fallen out of favor in the medical community but are still circulating. Stimulants, such as Adderall and Ritalin, are generally prescribed to children and teens dealing with symptoms of ADHD. They have a calming effect that helps people focus. Stimulants are highly addictive and prone to abuse. At high doses, they can lead to an irregular heartbeat, heart failure, seizures and a dangerously high body temperature. Abruptly quitting the abuse of sedatives can lead to seizures, and mixing these drugs with alcohol can result in overdose or death.


According to the 2016 Monitoring the Future study, an annual survey funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, cocaine usage declined among 10th and 12th grade students from 2013 to 2016. However, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that there were an estimated 1.5 million current cocaine users aged 12 or older in 2014. The euphoria associated with cocaine usage can take effect immediately and last up to an hour for a single dose. People who take the drug feel alert, energetic, talkative, and hypersensitive to light, sound and touch. Large amounts can lead to erratic behavior and cardiovascular irregularities, including heart attack and death. The combination of cocaine and alcohol is particularly dangerous. The two substances combine to create cocaethylene, which can amplify and accelerate the effects of cocaine and alcohol on the heart.


Whether plant based or synthetic, hallucinogens generally produce the same effect: alteration of reality through hallucinations, visions, sensations and perception of time and space. Hallucinogens, also called dissociative drugs, cause anxiety, memory loss, and impaired motor function, including body tremors and numbness. Because hallucinogens impair nerves that help us sense pain, those under the influence of these drugs are sometimes involved in accidents that require hospitalization or lead to death.


Spray paints, markers, glue, cleaning fluids — all of these fall under the category of drugs known as inhalants. The high achieved by abusing these volatile substances is psychoactive (mind-altering). In combination with alcohol, inhalants can cause dangerously low blood pressure, and in the long term, can cause liver and kidney damage, nerve damage, loss of brain function, and increased risk of pneumonia, which can lead to death if not properly treated.


An opioid synthesized from morphine, heroin is a natural extract from the poppy plant. It is a highly addictive drug; research shows almost one-quarter of all people who abuse heroin will become dependent on it. Heroin is either injected, smoked or snorted. All three methods deliver the drug to the brain incredibly quickly, making it one of the deadliest drugs available. Heroin affects the brain by attaching to receptors that cause the “feel-good” hormone dopamine to be released, causing the high. However, some of these receptors are located in the brain stem and are responsible for life-sustaining functions such as breathing and blood pressure. If those receptors are impaired by heroin, they are unable to do their job. Heroin overdoses are common, and they can cause permanent brain damage if the overdose is survived. One of the major effects heroin and other opioids have on the abuser is an increase of tolerance. Over time, people need more and more of the drug to achieve the same effect. This can cause them to self-administer lethal doses, leading to overdose or death.

Age Groups and Drug Addiction

A person’s age can significantly affect their vulnerability to addiction and resulting health risks. Abusing drugs as a child or teen can hinder brain development. Young adults entering college for the first time often find themselves in an environment where drugs are easily accessible. Even the elderly can develop a dependence or addiction to opioid painkillers after surgery or treatment for cancer-related pain.


Because of their still-developing brains, children and adolescents are more susceptible to drug addiction than many other age groups. Part of growing up is rebellion, and some children feel that doing drugs is a way to rebel against their parents’ wishes. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, teens who are sexually or physically abused are also more likely to be diagnosed with substance use disorders. Other factors include genetic vulnerabilities, prenatal exposure to alcohol or drugs, lack of supervision and association with drug-using peers. One encouraging bit of news is that the 2016 Monitoring the Future survey results showed a continued long-term decline in the use of many illicit substances among teens, including marijuana. In addition, the survey found fewer teens are abusing alcohol, tobacco and prescription drugs.


Almost 5 percent of college students used marijuana daily in 2015, according to Monitoring the Future. That number has grown steadily over the last 20 years. Conversely, after six years of steady decline starting in 2007, past-year cocaine use in full-time college students surpassed 4 percent in 2014 and remained high the following year. Because college is usually the first time young adults are living away from their parents, it’s also a time of experimentation, including with drugs. Lack of supervision and association with drug-using peers is a major factor in whether college students will become addicted. Luckily, many colleges offer drug education, sober housing and other programs aimed at getting addicted college students back on track.


When children grow up and leave home, they don’t often think that their parents could be prone to drug abuse and addiction. Many factors can contribute to issues with drugs among the elderly, including death of a spouse or partner, boredom from retirement, ailing health and waning friendships. Treating physical pain with opioids can be particularly dangerous. As one gets older, surgeries and injuries can create pain that is only assuaged by medication. A doctor may prescribe oxycodone for chronic back pain, but long-term use may lead to dependence and addiction. Symptoms of addiction in the elderly are different than in other age groups, and include:

  • Solitude
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Immediate and frequent use of tranquilizers or pain medications
  • Slurred speech
  • Chronic and unsupported health complaints
  • Hostility or depression
  • Memory loss or confusion

Sometimes, children of addicted elderly parents can mistake these symptoms for dementia or a normal part of the aging process. However, the effects of alcohol and drug abuse are much more harmful for the elderly. Roughly 2.5 million older adults in the United States have an alcohol or drug problem. While adults over the age of 65 represent only 13 percent of the total population, they consume almost 30 percent of all the prescription drugs in circulation. Drug and alcohol abuse in the elderly is an invisible epidemic that is difficult to pinpoint but essential to address.

Treatment and Rehabilitation for Drug Abuse

According to the 2016 Surgeon General’s Facing Addiction in America report, 20.8 million people met the criteria for a substance use disorder in 2015. However, only about 1 in 10 people with an addiction sought treatment. Addictions are progressive, so it’s best to treat them before they become life-threatening. The good news is that there’s better understanding of addiction now than ever, which means better treatment for everyone.


Treatment for addiction should include a full continuum of care. This approach allows experts to guide clients through various levels of care, depending on their needs. Treatment may start with intensive inpatient treatment and detox before transitioning clients to outpatient treatment and aftercare support. Generally, a rehab center screens clients to determine where they should begin their journey to recovery. Once that determination is made, a client can be admitted. It’s essential that you choose a rehab center that offers a continuum of care and uses evidence-based treatment. This means the course of treatment used in the center is based on scientific research and study. Research has proven that a combination of medication-assisted treatment and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is most effective when treating individuals with addiction.


One of the main ways clients are treated for addiction is with medication. When used as prescribed under the supervision of doctors, nurses and clinicians, medications can:

  • Mitigate the effects of withdrawal
  • Deter the use of addictive substances
  • Treat co-occurring mental health disorders

Some clients take medications that induce unpleasant symptoms when the problem drug or alcohol enters the body. For example, Vivitrol (generally administered by injection) induces headache, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea when alcohol or opioids are introduced to the body. This approach trains the brain and body to reject the substance that was previously an integral part of a person’s life.


Talk therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), are usually what people think of when they consider what rehab might entail. Both individual and group sessions are important in the rehab setting and can help clients on their recovery journeys. The main purpose of talk therapy is to help people gather the tools needed to face triggers and cravings in the outside world without giving in to drugs or alcohol. Individual therapy gives clients the opportunity to talk to their counselors and doctors about important issues that might have led to their addiction, and strategize ways to neutralize those situations in the future. Group sessions are especially helpful because they forge bonds between participants. People see that others are facing similar struggles (or struggles that make theirs pale in comparison) and learn different perspectives on the recovery process. Many friendships made in group therapy continue outside of rehab and are essential for accountability during recovery.


During a client’s initial screening, it may become apparent to the physician that one or more co-occurring mental health disorders have played a part in causing the addiction. These disorders might include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and schizophrenia. If a co-occurring disorder is present, it’s essential for the rehab center to be equipped to treat it along with the addiction. If depression or anxiety was an underlying factor in the addiction, and the mental health disorder goes untreated, there’s a high probability of relapse. It’s not uncommon for co-occurring disorders to be diagnosed alongside addictions; in 2014, approximately 7.9 million adults were diagnosed with co-occurring disorders in the United States. With integrated treatment that addresses both the addiction and the mental health of the client through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication-assisted treatment, the client has a high likelihood of success.

Taking the First Steps Toward Treatment

One of the biggest hurdles to overcome when considering treatment for addiction is cost. However, according to Facing Addiction in America, research has shown that, over time, the costs associated with rehab dwarf the costs related to continued addiction, hospitalization, and death by drugs. With the help of insurance companies and the Affordable Care Act, it’s possible that your treatment could be fully covered. Advanced Recovery Systems has several rehab centers geared fully toward helping those struggling with addictions and substance use disorders. Our centers are located in Florida, Colorado, Washington and Ohio, with more facilities planned in the near future. If you’re ready to take the first steps toward a better life, call us at 816-710-5883. You’ll reach an intake specialist who will determine your needs and provide recommendations for the best treatment possible.


  • Massachusetts Bureau of Substance Abuse Services. (n.d.). Sedatives and Tranquilizers. Retrieved from National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014, January).
  • Principles of Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment: A Research-Based Guide. Retrieved from
    National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014, October).
  • Heroin. Retrieved from National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015, June).
  • Nationwide Trends. Retrieved from
    National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, August).
  • What are marijuana effects? Retrieved from National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, December 13).
  • Monitoring the Future Study: Trends of Prevalence of Various Drugs. Retrieved from
    National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, December 13).
  • Teen Substance Use Shows Promising Decline. Retrieved from National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, December).
  • Monitoring the Future Results. Retrieved from
    National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, January).
  • Commonly Abused Drugs Charts. Retrieved from
    National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, November).
  • Drug and Alcohol Use in College-Age Adults in 2015. Retrieved from
    National Institutes of Health. (1998).
  • Substance Abuse Among Older Adults. Retrieved from
    Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015, September).
  • Behavioral Health Trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Retrieved from
    Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016, November 22).
  • Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT). Retrieved from
    Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016, March 8).
  • Co-Occurring Disorders. Retrieved from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2016, November).
  • Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. Retrieved from