Effects of Alcohol and Other Drugs

The negative physical and mental effects of the use of alcohol and other drugs are well documented. Use and abuse of these drugs may cause blackouts, poisoning, and overdose; physical and psychological dependence; damage to vital organs such as the brain, heart and liver; inability to learn and remember information; and psychological problems including depression, psychosis, and severe anxiety.

Impaired judgment and coordination resulting from the use of alcohol and other drugs are associated with DUI/DWI arrests; hazing; falls, drowning and other injuries; contracting sexually-transmitted diseases including AIDS; unwanted or unplanned sexual experiences and pregnancy; and acquaintance assault and rape.

The Health Center nurses, physicians, and/or Counseling Center counselors provide first-line assessment and referral as necessary for students needing assistance, as well as consultation for those concerned about others.

Risks associated with specific drugs include:

Alcohol: Alcohol abuse is a progressive disorder in which physical dependency can develop. Even low doses of alcohol impair brain function, judgment, alertness, coordination, and reflexes. Low to moderate doses of alcohol also cause an increase in a variety of aggressive actions such as assaults, including spousal and child abuse.

Moderate to high doses of alcohol cause marked impairments of higher mental functions, severely altering a person’s decision-making ability and ability to learn, process, and remember information. Very high doses cause suppression of respiration and death.

Chronic alcohol abuse can produce dementia, sexual impotence, cirrhosis of the liver, and heart disease; sudden withdrawal can produce severe anxiety, tremors, hallucinations, and life-threatening convulsions. If combined with other drugs, much lower doses of alcohol will produce the same effects as higher doses of alcohol alone.

Mothers who drink alcohol during pregnancy may give birth to infants with fetal alcohol syndrome. These infants may have irreversible physical abnormalities and intellectual disabilities. In addition, research indicates that children of alcoholic parents are at greater risk than other children of becoming alcoholics themselves.

Marijuana (Cannabis): Marijuana has negative physical and mental effects. Physical effects include elevated blood pressure, a dry mouth and throat, bloodshot and swollen eyes, decrease in body temperature, and increased appetite. Frequent and/or long-time users may develop chronic lung disease and damage to the pulmonary system.

Use of marijuana is also associated with impairment of short-term memory and comprehension, an altered sense of time, and a reduction in the ability to perform motor skills such as driving a car. Marijuana use produces listlessness, inattention, withdrawal, and apathy. It also can intensify underlying emotional problems and is associated with chronic anxiety, depression, and paranoia.

Synthetic marijuana (e.g., Spice, K2, "fake weed," "legal bud," "incense") is herbal material treated with synthetic chemicals to mimic the intoxicating effects of marijuana. The chemicals in synthetic marijuana have not been tested or approved for human consumption.

Hallucinogens: This category includes phencyclidine (PCP or “angel dust”) and amphetamine variants which have mind-altering effects. Perception and cognition are impaired and muscular coordination decreases. Speech is blocked and incoherent. Chronic users of PCP may have memory problems and speech difficulties lasting six months to a year after prolonged daily use. Depression, anxiety, and violent behavior also occur. High psychological dependence on the drug may result in taking large doses of PCP. Large doses produce convulsions, comas, and heart and lung failure.

Lysergic acid dyethylamine (L.S.D. or “acid”), mescaline, and psilocybin (mushrooms) cause illusions, hallucinations, and altered perception of time and space. Physical effects include dilated pupils, elevated body temperature, increased heart rate and blood pressure, decreased appetite, insomnia, and tremors. Psychological reactions include panic, confusion, paranoia, anxiety, and loss of control. Flashbacks, or delayed effects, can occur even after use has ceased.

Cocaine: Cocaine stimulates the central nervous system. Immediate physical effects include dilated pupils and increased blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, and body temperature. Occasional use can cause a stuffy or runny nose, while chronic use may destroy nasal tissues. Following the “high” of extreme happiness and a sense of unending energy is a cocaine “crash” including depression, dullness, intense anger, and paranoia. Contaminated equipment used to inject cocaine can cause AIDS, hepatitis, and other diseases. Tolerance develops rapidly, and psychological and physical dependency can occur.

Crack or “rock” is extremely addictive and produces the most intense cocaine high. The use of cocaine can cause kidney damage, heart attacks, seizures, and strokes due to high blood pressure. Death can occur by cardiac arrest or respiratory failure.

Stimulants: Amphetamines and other stimulants include “ecstasy” and “ice.” The physical effects produced are elevated heart and respiratory rates, increased blood pressure, insomnia, and loss of appetite. Sweating, headaches, blurred vision, dizziness, and anxiety may also result from use. High dosage can cause rapid or irregular heartbeat, tremors, loss of motor skills, and even physical collapse. Long-term use of higher doses can produce amphetamine psychosis, which includes hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia.

Depressants: Barbiturates and benzodiazepines are two of the most commonly used groups of these drugs. Barbiturates include phenobarbital, seconal, and amytal. Benzodiazepines include ativan, dalmane, librium, xanax, valium, halcyon, and restoril. These drugs are frequently used for medical purposes to relieve anxiety and to induce sleep. Physical and psychological dependence can occur if the drugs are used for longer periods of time at higher doses. Benzodiazepine use can cause slurred speech, disorientation, and lack of coordination. If taken with alcohol, abuse can lead to coma and possible death.

Narcotics: Narcotics include heroin, methadone, morphine, codeine, and opium. After an initial feeling of euphoria, usage causes drowsiness, nausea, and vomiting. Effects of overdose include slow and shallow breathing, clammy skin, convulsions, coma, and possible death. Physical and psychological dependence is high and severe withdrawal symptoms include watery eyes, runny nose, loss of appetite, irritability, tremors, panic, cramps, nausea, chills, and sweating. Use of contaminated syringes may cause AIDS and hepatitis.