Scientists Answer Addiction Questions from Teens


questions and answers graphic next to laptop

Every year, the National Institute on Drug Abuse usually hosts a Chat Day during National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week.

During this event, some the nation's top scientists answer drug-related questions from students across the country. 

Check out the questions about addiction teens asked during 2019's Chat Day, along with the answers from scientists.  Mark your calendars for the next Chat Day: March 24, 2021!

Question: How many drugs does it take to become a addict?

- chamness_a


Answer: Hi chamness_a, Although we know what happens to the brain when someone becomes addicted, we can't predict how many times a person must use a drug before that happens. The only way to be sure that a person will never become addicted to a drug is if they don't use it.

There are many things that influence whether a person will become addicted. Their biology (a person's genes) and their environment – like whether their friends or family use drugs or positive influences like sports or music – play a role. We also know that the younger someone is when they start to use drugs or alcohol, the more likely they are to become addicted. If you don't use before your brain is fully developed (in your mid-20's) your risk for addiction is MUCH lower!

- Marsha Lopez


 Question: why do you get addicted to drugs?

- merek


Answer: Drugs cause addiction by changing brain circuits over time. Many addictive substances increase levels of a chemical in the brain called dopamine. Circuits in the reward system use dopamine to “teach” the brain to repeat actions we find pleasurable—a process called reinforcement. When people take drugs, the brain releases a lot of dopamine, which strongly reinforces the action of taking the drug. Over time, dopamine is released less by taking the drug itself than by other activities, people, and places that are associated with drug use. This leads people to feel highly motivated to take the drug whenever they encounter those cues.

- Emily Einstein


'road to recovery' graphic

Question: How are people with drug addiction treated?

- Limely lu


Answer: Limely Lu, good question! Drug treatment can take different forms depending on the drug and needs of the individual. In some cases, medications can be used to treat addiction. Cognitive-behavioral treatment can be useful by helping people better understand the reasons they use drugs and address them, such as learn how to deal with stress and cravings for drugs, and develop different friends and activities to replace drug use. More information about drug treatment can be found at:

-Redonna Chandler



Question: How can you know if someone is addicted to a drug?



Answer: Hi Max,

Good question!
Addiction can happen at any age, but it usually starts when a person is young. If someone you know continues to use drugs despite harmful consequences, he or she may be addicted. If your friend starts behaving differently for no apparent reason—such as acting withdrawn, frequently tired or depressed, or hostile—it could be a sign he or she is developing a drug-related problem. Friends, parents, teachers and others may overlook such signs, believing them to be a normal part of puberty.

Through scientific advances, we know more than ever before about how drugs work in the brain. We also know that addiction can be successfully treated to help young people stop misusing drugs and lead productive lives. Intervening early when you first spot signs of drug use in your friend or family member is critical; don't wait!

Jinhee Lee


teen girls talking serious

Question: Why do some people become addicted to drugs while others don't?

- Dre507943


Hi Dre507943! Great question! There is a lot of variation in who becomes addicted to drugs, and a lot depends on your own family's genetic susceptiblity to substance abuse and the environment you grow up in. The best bet is to not even start taking them and avoid the risk! See these easy-to-understand videos on how anyone can become addicted, and why drugs are so hard to quit:

Mary Kautz



If my parents are addicted to drugs can I get addicted to them too?

- Katana


That's a very good question, Katana. There is a genetic component to addiction, meaning that if your parents are addicted to drugs you are at increased risk for addiction. But that doesn't mean that you will become addicted to drugs. Environmental factors also play a role in addiction risk. These include the influences of family and friends, economic status, and general quality of life. Peer pressure, physical and sexual abuse, stress, and parental guidance can also greatly affect a person's likelihood of drug use and addiction. Genetic and environmental factors also interact with development--Although taking drugs at any age can lead to addiction, the earlier that drug use begins, the more likely it will progress to addiction. Because teen brains are still developing, teens may be especially prone to risky behaviors, including trying drugs. The best way to prevent drug addiction is not to start using drugs.

Marsha Lopez




Want more questions and answers about drugs and substance misuse?

Check out the entire list of Chat Day responses here.