These questions were answered by more than 50 individual scientists and science writers with expertise in addiction. To get as many answered as possible, responses were written quickly based on the personal background and knowledge of each expert. Please note that there was not a secondary review or proofreading of each fact, and if readers have questions or comments about any response, they can ask further questions here.

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Do you know what the first drug known to man is??

-GMarie14, Michigan

alcohol

-Nora Volkow

Do you think fast food is equivalent in harmfullness to drugs?

-fdang, Texas

they are different. Fast foods are not good for you and can lead to compuslive overeating and obesity. Drugs of abuse, on the other hand, affect your brain and cannot only make you addicted but can affect your intelligence and mood.

-Nora Volkow

Do you think marijuana has any medical benefits?

-\.=., Massachusetts

This is a Frequently Asked Question: Why is weed illegal if it is a medicine? 
Marijuana for medical use has been in the news a lot lately. The marijuana plant has not been approved by the FDA for the treatment of any medical condition. There is early research suggesting that some of the active ingredients in marijuana, like THC and cannabidiol (CBD), may potentially help treat things like epilepsy, cancer, obesity, or addiction. Scientists are studying these ingredients to try to develop new medications.   A pill form of THC (an active ingredient in marijuana) is already available for certain conditions, such as nausea associated with cancer chemotherapy and weight loss in patients with AIDS.  However, smoked marijuana is unlikely to be an ideal medication because of its negative health effects, including the risk of addiction and the damage that smoking can do to the lungs.

-Maureen Boyle

Do you think people would continue to use cigarettes if nicotine was removed from them?

-FSCAA, Delaware

Excellent question FSCAA!! Best one yet. We think that people would not use cigarettes as much if nicotine was removed. A recent study shows that cutting the amount of nicotine in cigarettes leads to a reduction in the amount of cigarettes smoked per day, decreased nicotine dependence, and reduced cravings. Check out the summary here:"http://www.drugabuse.gov/news-events/news-releases/2015/10/reducing-nico...".There are a lot of scientists hard at work to help answer this question!!

-Joni Rutter

Do you think there will be a cure for people that has diseases from drugs and alcohol?

-fdang, Texas

yes, we re woking on it :)

-Nora Volkow

Do you watch breaking bad?

-fluffygod, Texas

I did! Did you?

-Joni Rutter

do steroids make your muscles bigger but more fragile

-mosesc, Texas

Steroids don't make you big and strong by themselves--you have to work at it with exercise.  And if you do the work, you are getting bigger and stronger by yourself!  Anabolic steroids do help build muscles, but only in specific areas on the body with "androgen receptors," in places like the neck and shoulders, places that are visible to others.  But no one has actually shown that they can make you stronger or increase your endurance.  And steroids can be dangerous.  In males, they can reduce the size of testicles, cause baldness and cause development of breasts.  In females, they can cause growth of facial hair, baldness similar to men and a deepened voice.  In adolescents, they may prevent you from reaching your full height.  I don't understand what you mean by making your muscles more fragile, so I can't answer that.  There is more information at http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/anabolic-steroids  

-Nancy Pilotte

do steroids make your testicles smaller

-ennisisd, Texas

yes

-Nora Volkow

Do the consequences of legalizing marijuana outweigh the economic benefits?

-student22, Michigan

Hi student22,
Legalization of marijuana for adult recreational use and for medicinal purposes is currently the subject of much public debate. For the last few years, the Department of Justice has said that it is not going to prioritize enforcement of federal marijuana laws when state laws allow for possession of small amounts of marijuana. They are giving states the flexibility to test new policies for both ‘medical’ and recreational use of marijuana. Public health experts are worried that these changing policies could lead to more use among teens. Regular marijuana use as a teen may harm the developing brain – making learning and memory worse – and can impair the ability to drive safely (especially when combined with alcohol). There is a lot of reserach going on right now to better understand both the economic and public health consequences of marijuana legalization. 

-Maureen Boyle

Do the effects of steroids wear off once you stop, or do they stay permanently?

-Sagu, Texas

Hi Sagu,
Steroids are hormones that your body produces in very small quantities when you need them.  But people who abuse them take 100-1000 times more than what you need, and that leads to the changes that occur.  Some effects are temporary, others are not.  For example, if you are a female using anabolic androgens to give you an edge in sports, these hormones may cause your voice to deepen, just like a male's, and this is permanent.  Steroids can also stop growth in the long bones that contribute to your final height, so teens of both sexes risk becoming shorter than expected.  These can also promote aggressive behaviors in both sexes, but this effect is usually temporary.  And, some report a feeling of depression after withdrawal from long-term use;  this is also usually temporary.  NIDA has more information on steroids at http://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts

-Nancy Pilotte

do the effects of the alcohol you consume depend on your gender?

-bryanaa, New Mexico

Some of them do, yes. Females tend to weigh less than males and so reach higher blood alcohol levels after each drink. Females appear to be more likely to experience blackouts and memory deficits after drinking than males. Over time, females are more likely to develop liver disease, brain impairments and cancer than males.

-Aaron White

do the scars of shooting up stay forever?

-tristin, Massachusetts

These scars can last a very long time

-Nora Volkow

Do they test drugs on animals?

-sms, New Jersey

We study humans, rats, mice, monkeys, voles, birds, worms, bees and flies, to name a few. The human brain is the most advanced, but we see similar effects of drugs across animal species.  

-Joni Rutter

Do you consider vape/hookah to be harmful drugs?

-KLW9149, Michigan

You bet! The aerosol, also called vapor,that e-cigs and vape pens produce are chemicals such as propylene glycol, glycerin, nicotine, THC, chemical flavorings, and others. Surveys show that many teens don’t even know what chemicals are in their e-cig device. One thing we worry about with e-cigarettes is that they may lead to nicotine addiction and this might cause some people to start using regular cigarettes, which can cause cancer. Check out these resources on e-cigs to learn more – http://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/tobacco-nicotine-e-cigarettes. You may think that using a hookah (waterpipe) is less harmful than smoking cigarettes, but it still delivers the addictive drug nicotine and is at least as toxic as cigarette smoking. In fact, research shows that hookah smokers inhale 100 to 200 times the volume of smoke in a 1-hour hookah session than they would from a single cigarette.

-Joni Rutter

Do you feel relaxed when you drink?

-AyenaK, Texas

Some people do. But it's important to understand why that happens. There are parts of our brain that tell us to feel stressed or worried that something might happen. Alcohol turns down the activity in these areas, which creates the illusion that the stress is gone - and that helps us feel more relaxed. Unfortunately, as soon as the alcohol wears off, the feelings of stress come back - and can be even worse than before. While people might feel a little less stressed after drinking some alcohol, they generally feel extra stressed when it wears off. 

-Aaron White

Do you get addicted to steroids ?

-Nallely M, New Mexico

Hello Nallely M.  There is increasing evidence that you can become addicted to steroids.  Steroids are very powerful and affect your brain, your liver, your reproductive organs, and increase the risk of cancer (even if you do not become addicted).  There is more information here: https://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/anabolic-steroids.  Great question.

-Roger Little

Do you get withdrawl if you stop using cocaine for a while?

-mbanks, Texas

Hello mbanks, the short answer is that if you are addicted yes you can.  People who are addicted to cocaine will go to great lengths to get it because they crave it so much and not having it makes them feel so unwell.  To the point of stealing money which can cause them to lose their jobs, their marriages, and families.  A person can feel jittery or anxious and it can cause lasting damage to your heart and cardiovascular system. There is more information here.

https://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/stimulants
 

-Roger Little

Couldn’t legalizing and taxing marijuana generate significant revenue?

-detraviousk, Georgia

That's a question that still is being looked into in localities and states where legalization has occured. NIDA is funding a number of research studies to better understand the impact of changing marijuana policies. Keep tracking information at drugabuse.gov

thanks

Dr. J for Dr. L who's snowbound today!

-Michelle Leff

Currently, which age group of people are the ones consuming more drugs?

-Jessica L, New Mexico

Good question, Jessica L - Here are the latest statistics on drug use for Americans age 12 and older: www.drugabuse.gov/national-survey-drug-use-health.  More specific information can be found here - http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FRR1-2014/NSDUH-FRR1-2014.pdf

-Marsha Lopez

do a lot of teens drink when they are still in high school

-Abigaila, New Mexico

By age 15, about 35 percent of teens have had at least 1 drink.
By age 18, about 65 percent of teens have had at least 1 drink.
In 2014, 8.7 million young people ages 12–20 reported that they drank alcohol beyond "just a few sips" in the past month.

Another way to think about these numbers is: Only about 1 out of 10 kids ages 12 to 17 drank alcohol in the past month. So MOST – about 9 out of 10 – did not drink alcohol. This information comes from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH, 2014)
 

http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets

-Aaron White

Do adults above 30 abuse drugs or kids under 19, or from 20 to 30

-Mahats, Massachusetts

Thanks for your question, Mahats - unfortunately people in all of these age groups use drugs, according to national surveys. For example, Figure 3 in this link shows past month marijuana use among people aged 12 or older by age group: http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FRR1-2014/NSDUH-FRR1-2014.pdf
 

-Marsha Lopez

do people drink alcohol for enjoyment

-ennisisd, Texas

People drink alcohol for a lot of different reasons. Some people may get messages from movies, TV, and our general culture that drinking can make you feel "cool." Others may feel that they can escape problems in their life by drinking. But they cannot - drinking only makes any problems you already have much worse. And there's nothing cool about throwing up in a garbage can or wrecking a car.
Learn more about why alcohol is dangerous for kids under age 21 and how you can resist the peer pressure to drink at: http://www.thecoolspot.gov/index.asp 

-Aaron White

do people ever die of weed overdose

-laqueefa, New Jersey

Hi laqueefa,
No. They just feel really terrible for a while and may have to go to the emergency room. 

-Eric Wargo

do people get addicted that fast..? to where you would rather buy meth then pay you're bills? and is it really that easy to get a hold of?

-aranaa, New Mexico

Hi Aranaa. Some people get addicted very quickly. For many substances, it takes years to develop addiction but for some drugs, like methamphetamine, tobacco and cocaine, many develop addiction within the first few months.

-Wilson Compton

Do people go through withdrawal when they stop smoking?

-rm, Massachusetts

Yes, they can. This usually depends on how much they've smoked and for how long.  Withdrawal symptoms from cigarette smoking can include irritability, attention and sleep problems, and increased appetite.

-Joni Rutter

do people normally stop smoking if they get emphysema

-akavanaugh, Texas

Great question akavanaugh. You would think that people quit smoking when they get ill but many do not. They are so addicted that they keep smoking anyway. In fact, the definition of addiction is compulsive drug use despite the harmful consequences. It is especially sad that emphysema may keep getting worse even if someone quits smoking.  The key idea is not to start smoking and to quit as quickly as possible.  Quitting smoking saves lives,

-Wilson Compton

Do people really abuse cough syrup?

-anon, Texas

Hi, anon, I know it's hard to believe but yes, people do!  Dextromethorphan is often therapeutically used as a cough suppressant, but in high doses can act as a dissociative hallucinogen, and there are some cough medicines that contain codeine, which is an opioid medication (same class of drugs as heroin). None of this is safe for your body or your brain, so only use these medicines as they're intended. Here's some more information for you about these: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/cough-cold-medicine-abuse

-Marsha Lopez

do people stop doing cocain if they get sick from it

-akavanaugh, Texas

Hey akavanaugh. I hope that they don't even try to use cocaine. Unfortunately, cocaine is very addictive. Stimulants such as cocaine cause the body’s blood vessels to narrow, constricting blood flow, which forces the heart to work harder to pump blood through the body. The heart may work so hard that it temporarily loses its natural rhythm. This is why there have been many cases of people dying suddenly from heart attacks after using cocaine. http://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/stimulants. So even though we know that cocaine use can cause serious illness and even death, those individuals who are addicted to cocaine will continue to use this drug.

-Roger Sorensen

do people use drugs or acohol more?

-ennisisd, Texas

Hi ennisisd - thanks for joining the Chat today. Here's what we know about commonly used drugs - The most common substance used by teens is alcohol. Almost 40% of high school seniors reported using alcohol in the past month. The most common illicit drug used by teens is marijuana. Both alcohol and marijuana can have negative effects on teenage brains that are still developing, especially when they are used heavily or often, so that's a big concern. Here are the latest rates of teen drug use from our Monitoring the Future Survey (of 8th, 10th and 12th graders). https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/monitoring-future

-Marsha Lopez

Do people who have been clinically diagnosed with depression have a higher risk of trying deadly drugs?

-blancoisd8, Texas

Hi blancoisd8, 
People with depression may use drugs in an effort to make themselves feel better. Lots of drugs or substances can be deadly if used in a dangerous way. That's one reason why seeking help for depression is important. 

-Charlotte Armstrong