Health Information

Substance Abuse Assessment

Substance abuse is defined as the use of drugs, legal or illegal, for non-therapeutic purposes. Many people who abuse drugs become addicted. Drug abuse and drug addiction affect both men and women. People who abuse drugs come from all ethnic groups and all walks of life. Drugs don't have to be illegal to be abused. If you abuse drugs, you can become dependent on them physically, and psychologically. Drug abuse and addiction can lead to many problems in life, as well as damage your health.

Many people who abuse drugs aren't aware they have a problem, or don't want to admit it. They ignore the warning signs of drug abuse and don't listen to family and friends who are concerned.

This assessment is for people who regularly use drugs and wonder if they have a problem with abuse or addiction. The assessment is not for occasional users of drugs.

This assessment is based on the CAGE assessment originally developed to identify alcohol abuse.


This short questionnaire can help you take a closer look at your use.

1. Have you ever felt you need to cut down on your drug use? Yes No 2. Do you ever feel annoyed when people criticize your drug use? Yes No 3. Have you ever felt embarrassed or guilty about your drug use? Yes No 4. Have you ever used drugs first thing in the morning? Yes No

Your results

A "yes" answer to any of the questions in this assessment should make you think about the role that drugs may play in your life. Could drugs be causing problems that you weren't aware of? Could you be in denial about a problem with drugs? If you have concerns about drug addiction, regardless of the results of this assessment, talk to your health care provider.

From the answers you gave us, it does not appear that you have a problem with drugs.

About Drug addiction and drug abuse

Both drug abuse and drug addiction can lead to many health problems. These problems vary depending on the type of drug abused. In general, drug abuse weakens the body's immune system, making it more difficult to fight off infection. People who abuse drugs often engage in risky behaviors, such as unsafe sex and sharing of needles. This makes them more likely to get sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and hepatitis.

Abusing drugs can affect the way the heart works, including raising the risk for heart attack. Certain drugs, when abused, can damage the kidneys. Other drugs, including heroin, inhalants, and steroids, can damage the liver.

All drugs that are abused affect the brain. This is because they cause a pleasurable or euphoric effect. Some drugs damage the brain or cause strokes or seizures. Drug abuse can interfere with memory and attention and can affect decision-making. Over time, the damage to the brain can result in paranoia, depression, and aggression, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says.

People who abuse steroids—for bodybuilding or athletic performance—have problems related to sex hormones. For men, infertility and shrinking of the testicles occur. Women's bodies become more masculine.

Pregnant women who abuse drugs affect the health of the developing child. Drug abuse may cause miscarriage, preterm birth, and low birth weight. As the child grows up, he may have problems with behavior or learning.

Drug abuse and drug dependence have a large impact on society, as well. More than half of the estimated cost of drug abuse is tied to drug-related crime, the NIDA says. This includes the impact on victims of crime, the cost of police and prison services, and loss of a legitimate contribution to society by engaging in a life of crime. Substance abuse treatment and prevention programs, and medical care needed for health problems tied to drug abuse are additional costs.

A teenager who abuses drugs may have problems finishing school. An adult who abuses drugs may have difficulty keeping a job or helping to provide for a family. An older adult who abuses drugs may be more likely to be misdiagnosed with dementia or depression.


Drug addiction is a chronic disease. Like type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses, there is no cure. Drug addiction can be successfully treated, however. Treatment that focuses on changing behavior helps many people. People who are addicted to heroin and certain other drugs can be helped with medication.

Most treatment programs are led by people who have been specially trained and licensed as counselors. Many counselors are people who are in recovery themselves, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Programs range from inpatient treatment at a hospital or center to outpatient treatment and methadone clinics. A variety of programs is available because no single program works for everyone. If you enter a treatment program, you will need to stick with the program for the length of time recommended for it to be effective. Even then, you may need several periods of treatment to remain drug-free.

Where to go for help

You can find a treatment center near you by calling SAMHSA toll-free at 800-662-HELP (4357), or by visiting the SAMHSA website.

About CAGE: The above assessment is a modified CAGE questionnaire for identifying problems with drug use. The CAGE questionnaire was developed by Dr. John Ewing, founding director of the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. CAGE is an internationally used assessment instrument for identifying problems with alcohol.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional health care. Always consult with a health care provider for advice concerning your health. Only your health care provider can determine if you have a problem with substance abuse.

Print Source: Detecting Alcoholism: The CAGE Questionnaire. JAMA. Ewing, John A., MD. 1984; 252(14): 1905-7.
Print Source: Psychometric properties of the Drug Use Disorders Identification Test (DUDIT) with substance abusers in outpatient and residential treatment. Voluse A. Addictive Behaviors. 2012;37(1):36-41.
Online Source: Counseling Resource
Online Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse
Online Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Online Source: American Family Physician, April 1, 2003.
Online Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse
Online Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse
Online Editor: Sinovic, Dianna
Online Medical Reviewer: Nelson, Gail, MS, APRN, BC
Online Medical Reviewer: Stock, Christopher J, PharmD
Date Last Reviewed: 6/16/2012