Teens Ask: “Is There a Cure for Addiction?”

close up of a young man who rests his hands on his face.

We hear this question a lot during National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week®. The short answer is that, unfortunately, there isn’t a cure for addiction. 

But the longer answer is more hopeful: There may not be a cure, but there is treatment.

So, how does treatment for addiction work?

First, it helps to know some things about addiction. It’s a complex disease that can change how a person’s brain functions in important ways. Addiction can happen at any age, but it usually starts when a person is young. 

The first time a person uses a drug, it’s typically their choice. If they keep using it, it can become difficult to stop. Continuing to use drugs, even though it's harming a person’s life, is a sign of an addiction.

Many types of treatment work for people with addiction. No single treatment is right for everybody; in fact, treatment often combines a few of these options. They include: 

  • Behavioral counseling. 
    • This can help people change their attitudes and behaviors related to drug use. For example, they may need to learn how to avoid or cope with “triggers” that could lead them to use drugs again.
    • Behavioral counseling can also teach healthy life skills. If a person has used drugs to try to escape stress, for instance, they may learn healthier ways to deal with stress.
  • Medications. 
    • Some medications can help the brain function normally again; they can also decrease cravings for the drug that could lead to relapse. Currently, medications are available to treat addiction to opioids, nicotine, and alcohol. 
    • Medications can also treat “co-occurring” mental health conditions, like depression or anxiety, that sometimes contribute to addiction or lead people to try drugs in the first place.

Some other things to know related to treatment:

  • Withdrawal symptoms. 
    • Many people don’t stop taking drugs because when they try, they have uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. There are two options that can help:
      • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is allowing the sale of an electrical device that is attached behind the ear. It stimulates nerves attached to the brain to provide relief from withdrawal symptoms. 
      • The FDA approved the medicine lofexidine to help with uncomfortable symptoms of opioid withdrawal. 
  • Long-term follow-up to prevent relapse.
    • Addiction is a chronic (long-term) condition, so follow-up treatment is important. It could include both medical and mental health services. Treatment needs to address all of a person’s needs, not just their drug use. 

If you think you may be addicted to drugs, it’s important to talk to a medical professional about it. It may be one of the best things you could do to protect your body, your mind, and your future.

NIDA has more information on evidence-based options and future research directions for substance use in the treatment section of the website.