Frequently Asked Questions About Alcohol and Drugs

  • For Parents
  • For Youth
  • For Women
  • For Seniors
  • Treatment]
  • For Veterans

My daughter only drinks beer, doesn’t drink every day and says she’s not alcoholic.  Is she right?

Alcoholism is not defined by what you drink, when you drink it, or even how much you drink.  Whether a person drinks every day or only on weekends, drinks shots of liquor or just drinks beer or wine, what matters most is what happens when they drink.  If her drinking is causing problems at home, at work, physically, financially, emotionally or legally, it is time to get help.

Is it important to talk to my kids about alcohol and drug use before they are even exposed to it?

In a recent survey, 1 in 3 fifth and sixth graders (ages 10-11) said that alcohol was available and easy to get. Approximately 10% of 9-10 year olds have started drinking and one in three begin drinking before age 13. By age 15, approximately 50% have had at least one drink, so it’s never too early to start the conversation. Parents play a key role in providing information about alcohol and drugs, and research shows that kids who learn a lot about the risks of alcohol and drugs from their parents are up to 50% less likely to use. Parents influence whether and when adolescents begin drinking as well as how their children drink. Family policies about adolescent drinking in the home and the way parents themselves drink are important.

My ex-husband was alcoholic, should I be concerned about my kids?

When there is addiction in the family, everyone is effected, and it is important to understand how each family member may be coping with unhealthy family behaviors. In addition, children of alcohol or drug addicted parents are in the highest risk group of all children to become alcohol and drug abusers themselves due to both genetic and family environment factors. So, it's important to become educated on addiction and codependency, and to talk with children honestly about the dangers of alcohol and drugs and their own risk factors.

I think my 19 year son has a drug problem, but I think he’ll grow out of it.  Am I right?

Plain and simple, if you are concerned, now is the time to seek help, not later. It might help to attend meetings of Al-Anon or Nar-Anon (programs for family and friends of those who may have a problem with alcohol or drugs), and open meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous (programs for the person who may have a problem with alcohol or drugs). You can learn a great deal about your family situation from hearing the experiences of others who are dealing with similar family concerns. And you can learn a great deal about alcoholism and drug addiction from hearing alcoholics and addicts talking honestly about their slide into addiction and their recoveries.

Can a person be too young to become addicted to alcohol and drugs?

No. And, research and experience show that the younger someone starts using alcohol and drugs, the greater the chance that they will become addicted.

Can you get addicted even though you only do it once in a while?

Yes.  For most, addiction to alcohol and drugs is a process -- not an event.  Most people who use alcohol and drugs do so with an intention of only using once or “once in a while.”  No one decides that they want to become addicted to alcohol and drugs.  But, addictive drugs directly affect the brain.  It is easy for occasional use to change to frequent use or constant use -- that is addiction.  The only thing we know for sure:  if you don't drink alcohol and don’t do drugs, you definitely won't become addicted.

Why is age of first use of alcohol so critically important?

Kids who start drinking alcohol before age 15 are 5 times more likely to develop alcohol abuse or dependence than people who first used alcohol at age 21 or older.  A study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine showed that 47% of those who began drinking before age 15 experienced alcohol dependence at some point in their life, compared to 9% percent of those who began drinking at age 21 or older.

Besides alcohol, what are the most commonly abused drugs among young people?

Along with alcohol, the most commonly abused drugs among high-school students are:  marijuana, Vicodin, amphetamines, cough medicine, Adderall, tranquilizers, salvia, hallucinogens, OxyContin, sedatives, MDMA/ecstasy, inhalants, cocaine and Ritalin.

Is drinking and driving the biggest alcohol-related risk for college students?

No, there are many alcohol-related risks faced by college students. While an estimated 1,900 young people under the age of 21 die each year from alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes, approximately 600,000 college students are unintentionally injured while under the influence of alcohol; approximately 700,000 students are assaulted by other students who have been drinking; and about 100,000 students are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.

Marijuana is just a plant. Is it really that dangerous?

Yes, marijuana is a plant but it has very real health consequences, including drug addiction.  While some people think marijuana is a “harmless drug,” actual experience and the real science show a different reality.  More teens are in treatment with a primary diagnosis of marijuana dependence than for all other illegal drugs combined.

Does marijuana use lead to the use of other drugs?

While most marijuana smokers do not go on to use other illegal drugs, long-term studies of high school students show that few young people use other illegal drugs without first using marijuana.  Using marijuana puts people in contact with people who are users and sellers of other drugs and are more likely to be exposed to and urged to try other drugs.

Is marijuana use increasing among youth?

While the trend over the last 10 years has been largely positive, there have been some troubling increases in the rates of marijuana use among young Americans in the recent years. After a steady decline and flattening in the prevalence of past month use of marijuana among youth (12 to 17 year olds) from 2002 through 2008, the rate increased from 6.7 percent in 2008 to 7.9 percent in 2011. Surveys also show that there has been an upward trend in use over the past three to five years among 10th and 12th graders.

Why is marijuana use increasing among youth?

The proportion of students seeing great risk from using marijuana regularly has fallen over the past few years and personal disapproval of trying marijuana use has dropped considerably among high-school aged students. In addition, marijuana has become increasingly more available, with between 81% and 90% of 12th graders each year saying that they could get marijuana fairly easily or very easily if they wanted some.

What are some of the reasons teenagers decide to try drugs?

There is no single reason for teenage drug and alcohol use. But here are some of the core issues and influences behind early experimentation: other people (parents, peers); popular media; escape and self-medication; boredom; rebellion; instant gratification; lack of confidence; and misinformation. But ultimately, the reasons for teenage drug and alcohol use are as complex as teenagers themselves. Given these reasons, it’s important that parents understand and talk to their kids about the dangers of drinking and using drugs.

Are women more at risk for developing addiction?

While addiction is an equal opportunity disease, it affects women differently. Women become addicted differently, start using for different reasons, progress faster, recover differently, and relapse for different reasons. The female body processes alcohol, and to a varying extent other chemicals, differently than does the male body. Women have less of a stomach enzyme that breaks down alcohol. This leads to greater blood alcohol concentration. Women also have more fatty tissue than men, so alcohol is absorbed more slowly and stays in the bloodstream longer. Therefore the brain and other organs are exposed to higher concentrations for longer periods. That's why one drink for a woman is said to have twice the physical impact as one drink for a man.

What prevents women from getting help?

Shame and fear are major barriers. The stigma attached to addiction can be stronger for women than men. Particularly mothers. Common barriers include child care responsibilities, lower wages/less money, substance abuse by their partner, family, fear of losing children, lack of access to resources, or feeling unworthy of help.

What are some of the risks of drug and alcohol use during pregnancy?

Using drugs, alcohol, or tobacco during pregnancy exposes not just the woman but also her developing fetus to the substance and can have potentially deleterious and even long-term effects on exposed children. Smoking during pregnancy can increase risk of stillbirth, infant mortality, sudden infant death syndrome, preterm birth, respiratory problems, slowed fetal growth, and low birth weight. Drinking during pregnancy can lead to the child developing fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, characterized by low birth weight and enduring cognitive and behavioral problems. Prenatal use of some drugs, including opioids, may cause a withdrawal syndrome in newborns called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Babies with NAS are at greater risk of seizures, respiratory problems, feeding difficulties, low birth weight, and even death.

Is it true that women are the fastest growing demographic for alcohol and drug use today?

It's true that more women are being identified and getting treatment. Historically, men have had the higher reported incidence of substance abuse and dependence, but women are closing that gap. Young women, in particular, have an almost equal percentage of abuse and dependence concerns as young men.

Do women have a unique set of needs as they seek treatment for alcoholism and drug dependence?

Many life circumstances predominate in women as a group, which may require a specialized treatment approach. For example, research has shown that physical and sexual trauma followed by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is more common in drug-abusing women than in men seeking treatment. Other factors unique to women that can influence the treatment process include issues around how they come into treatment (as women are more likely than men to seek the assistance of a general or mental health practitioner), financial independence, and pregnancy and child care.

Is it true that older adults are more likely to have more than one substance abuse problem?

Older patients commonly abuse benzodiazepines like Valium and Xanax. They seem to be commonly taken in combination with other substances like alcohol or prescription opiates. A major problem, as people get older, is that they seem to be less able to handle alcohol. For older people, less alcohol causes greater intoxication while complicating secondary medical conditions. When you combine alcohol with prescription drugs, you have a synergistic effect in terms of debility and morbidity and, ultimately, mortality.

Are the signs of addiction often mistaken for age-related problems in the elderly population?

Often the symptoms of alcohol and drug abuse are mistaken for symptoms of dementia, depression or other issues or problems. Alcohol problems in older adults are often not identified due to the relative isolation of this population; many older adults do not drive and are not employed, which are two arenas where alcohol problems are often identified. Also, older adults and their families are more likely to hide their substance use and less likely to seek help than younger adults. What’s most helpful is getting the family educated about the red flags and warning signs of alcohol and drug abuse in seniors.

Why is alcohol so problematic for older persons?


In older adults, even small amounts of alcohol can have serious consequences. While alcohol consumption can have physical and psychological benefits for older adults, it can also create danger by causing or complicating medical conditions, producing unsafe medication interactions, and increasing falls, confusion, depression, and premature mortality.

Is it all right to intervene on a senior citizen?

There are special techniques for intervening on an aging parent or a grandparent. A loving approach works very well when helping an older person, as they can exhibit defensiveness or irritation when asked routine questions about alcohol or drug use, making it difficult to identify and help them. Older people benefit from treatment programs designed for their age group. While recovery is slower, success is greater among elders.

Can alcoholism and drug addiction be treated?

Yes. Alcoholism and addiction treatment programs can help a person stop drinking and using drugs. Treatment has helped millions of people stop drinking and drugging, rebuild their lives and live a life in long-term recovery. Many self-help groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, are also available, as are programs providing help and support for the family and friends of addicts and alcoholics.

Is it true that if our family member is forced into treatment, that treatment won’t work?

Treatment does not have to be voluntary for it to be successful. Because of the effect of alcohol and drugs on the person, there are times when they may be incapable of making a decision to seek help on their own. People who are pressured into treatment by their family or friends, employer or a judge are just as likely to benefit from treatment as those who enter “on their own.”

What if our loved one relapses after treatment? Is there any point in trying again?

For some, long-term recovery from addiction to alcohol or drugs may start after their first self-help meeting or with the first time they go to treatment. But, like other chronic illnesses, recovery from addiction requires a life-long commitment to a program of change.  For some, relapse back to active use of alcohol or drugs may play a critical role in guiding them toward a rededication to their recovery. Relapse can be a signal to get back on track, either by returning to meetings, treatment or adjusting the treatment approach.

Are veterans more likely to develop problems with alcohol and drugs?

Veterans are prone to all the addiction problems prevalent in the general population, but recently returning combat veterans appear to have high rates of substance abuse. They also often exhibit a co-occurring triad of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and pain, which complicates the problems with substance abuse.

What is PTSD and how does it relate to drug and alcohol abuse?

PTSD is a serious mental health condition that is caused by a terrifying or traumatic event; it is a lasting illness that is treated with opioid painkillers among veterans. The nickname “battle fatigue” is well known among veterans and is the cause for most mental health illnesses and painkiller abuse in the field. A study was conducted among veterans 3 to 4 months after returning from deployment to Iraq and it showed that 27% met criteria for alcohol or drug abuse. Studies also show that PTSD symptoms improve dramatically when substance abuse treatment is provided for the veterans.

Is prescription drug abuse a problem among veterans?

There are more than two million veterans suffering from an opioid painkiller addiction as result of trying to treat physical injury, mental health issues, and PTSD. Four percent of soldiers have been prescribed an opiod painkiller with oxycodone, accounting for 95 percent of those prescriptions; 25-35% of wounded soldiers are addicted to prescription or illegal drugs while they await medical discharge; and vets who have been prescribed painkillers and suffer from PTSD along with physical pain are at high risk for drug and alcohol abuse.

NCADD has prepared this list of Frequently Asked Questions to help with the many questions people have with Addiction, Treatment and Recovery.

We have conveniently split this into sections for Parents, Youth, Women, Seniors, Treatment and Veterans.

Last modified onFriday, 23 October 2015 10:49
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