Health Risks of Alcohol and Other Drugs
An overview of health risks of alcohol and other common drugs of abuse is provided below. To find out more about these commonly abused agents and other substances of abuse not listed here, visit the National Institute on Drug Abuse's Commonly Abuse Drugs Chart.
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Alcohol consumption causes a number of impairments including changes in behavior and normal body function. Even low doses significantly impair judgment, coordination and mental function, thus increasing the risks of accidents and injuries. Moderate to high doses of alcohol cause marked impairments in higher mental functions, severely altering a person’s ability to learn and remember information. Very high doses taken acutely can cause respiratory depression and even death. Statistics show that alcohol use is involved in a majority of violent behaviors on college campuses, including acquaintance rape, vandalism and fights. Additional consequences include DUI arrests and serious or fatal car crashes. Continued abuse may lead to dependency, which can cause permanent damage to vital organs and deterioration of a healthy lifestyle.
Amphetamines can cause a rapid or irregular heartbeat, tremors, convulsions, loss of coordination, collapse and death. Heavy users are prone to irrational acts.
Cannabis (Marijuana, Hashish)
The use of marijuana may impair or reduce short-term memory and comprehension, alter sense of time, and reduce coordination and energy level. Users often have a lowered immune system and an increased risk of lung cancer. Users also often lack motivation and general drive to achieve goals.
Club drugs are drugs such as MDMA (Ecstasy), Rohypnol, GHB, LSD and methamphetamine and others, which are used at all-night parties such as trances or raves, dance clubs and bars. These party drugs, particularly when mixed with alcohol, can cause serious health problems, injuries or even death.
Cocaine users often have a stuffy, runny nose and may have a perforated nasal septum. The immediate effects of cocaine use include dilated pupils and elevated blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate and body temperature, followed by depression. Crack, or freebase rock cocaine, is extremely addictive and can cause delirium, hallucinations, blurred vision, severe chest pain, muscle spasms, convulsions and even death.
Lysergic acid (LSD), mescaline and psilocybin cause illusions and hallucinations. The user may experience panic, confusion, suspicion, anxiety and loss of control. Delayed effects, or flashbacks, can occur even when use has ceased. Phencyclidine (PCP) affects the section of the brain that controls the intellect and keeps instincts in check. Because the drug blocks pain receptors, PCP episodes may result in self-inflicted injuries, violence and aggressive behavior toward others.
Heroin is an opiate drug that causes the body to have diminished pain reactions. Overdoses of this highly addictive drug can result in coma or death due to respiratory failure or cardiovascular collapse.
Methamphetamines can cause rapid or irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure and body temperature. Possible side effects with long-term use include mood disturbances, violent behavior, anxiety, confusion and insomnia. All users risk becoming infected with diseases such as HIV/ AIDS and hepatitis.
Prescription Drug Abuse
Taking a prescription medication that is not prescribed for you, or taking it for reasons or in dosages other than as prescribed, is prescription drug abuse. Commonly abused classes of prescription medications include opioids, central nervous system (CNS) depressants and stimulants. Long-term use of opioids or central nervous system depressants can lead to physical dependence and addiction. Opioids and CNS depressants may cause the user to experience drowsiness, slowing of brain function, as well as decreased heart and respiration rates. Stimulants can cause anxiety, paranoia, dangerously high body temperatures or seizures if taken repeatedly or in high doses.
Use of salvia can cause hallucination, changes in visual perception, feelings of detachment and a decreased ability to interact with one’s surroundings.
Synthetic Drugs (Spice, Bath Salts, etc.)
"Spice" refers to a wide variety of herbal mixtures that produce experiences similar to marijuana (cannabis) and that are marketed as "safe," legal alternatives to that drug. The term “bath salts” refers to an emerging family of drugs containing one or more synthetic chemicals related to cathinone, an amphetamine-like stimulant found naturally in the Khat plant. Though research on synthetic substances is still limited, they have been found to be potentially more dangerous than marijuana, cocaine, or other substances of abuse, as they are addictive and can be highly dangerous to humans.