Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

Font Size

Drug Abuse and Dependence - Topic Overview

Is this topic for you?

This topic is about drug abuse and dependence in adults. For information about drug abuse in teens or children, see the topic Teen Alcohol and Drug Abuse.

What are drug abuse and dependence?

Drug abuse is using drugs in a way that harms you or that leads you to harm others. You can abuse illegal drugs, prescription drugs, or over-the-counter drugs.

When you abuse drugs, you are not always able to meet work, home, or school duties. You may be late to work. You may use drugs in dangerous situations, such as when driving or operating machines. Or drugs may cause problems in your relationships.

Drug abuse can lead to drug dependence, where you are addicted to a drug. The drug controls your life. Any of the following can happen:

  • You take more of the drug over longer periods of time and need more of the drug to feel "high."
  • You try to quit using the drug, but you are not able to.
  • You continue to use the drug even though it harms your relationships and causes you to develop physical problems.
  • If you stop using the drug, you feel sick. This is known as withdrawal.

Drug dependence is a disease. It's not a weakness or a lack of willpower. It's your choice to begin using a drug. But as you use it more, your brain begins to change. This change can lead to a craving to use the drug, and this can influence how you act.

Which drugs might be a problem?

Drugs that are abused include:

What are the signs of drug abuse and dependence?

Behaviors that may be signs of a drug problem include:

  • Changes in sleeping or eating habits, less attention to dressing and grooming, or less interest in sex.
  • Up-and-down moods, a mood or attitude that is getting worse, or not caring about the future.
  • Sneaky behavior, lying, or stealing.
  • Poor family relationships, or relationships that are getting worse.
  • New problems at work or school, or problems with the law.
    Next Article:

    Today on WebMD

    child ignored by parents
    prescription pain pills
    Woman experiencing withdrawal symptoms
    Teen girl huddled outside house
    Man with glass of scotch
    overturned shot glass
    assortment of medication
    Depressed and hurting