Teenage boy passes a bottle of alcohol to a friend.

Addiction and Substance Abuse

Many people don’t know that substance abuse can be caused by addiction, a form of mental illness.

Addiction is a complex disease that requires a diagnosis, treatment, and behavioral therapy from a medical professional. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines addiction as a “chronic, often relapsing brain disease that causes compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences to the addicted individual and to those around him or her.” Substance abuse is not a self-control issue, but a symptom of a chemical imbalance in the brain that can become worse the first time you use and/or anytime you use drugs or alcohol afterward.

If you know someone with a substance abuse problem, talk to a provider for help or advice. Youth can schedule an appointment at any of DC’s four Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment Expansion Programs (ASTEP). Adults can find assistance through the Assessment and Referral Center (ARC).

Close up of a glass of alcohol.
1 in 12 American adults are struggling
with alcohol addiction—that’s

17.6 million Americans.

Teenage boy lays on the bed with pills in the palm of his hand.
8 percent of Americans ages 12 and older
report using an illegal or prescription drug
for nonmedical reasons

within the last 30 days.