Alcohol and Drug Health Risks

All of the substances listed below pose a variety of health risks. Most or all, distort judgment, which can cause people to make poor choices that put them at risk for physical injury through accidents, physical assault, or excessive bodily stress.

Alcohol is an irritant and a central nervous system depressant. Second to tobacco, it is the most abused drug in the U.S.A. and can cause memory loss, hypothermia and damage to vital organs including the liver, kidney, stomach, and intestines. Death can also occur from inability to breathe, heart failure, aspiration of vomit leading to asphyxiation, and severe withdrawal. The following dietary guidelines for Americans provide helpful guidance in this regard. (See chart below.)

Dietary Guidelines for Americans
As recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation.

Alcoholic beverages supply calories but little or no nutrients. Drinking them has no net health benefits, is linked with many health problems, is the cause of many accidents, and can lead to addiction. Their consumption is not recommended. If adults elect to drink alcoholic beverages, they should consume them in moderate amounts.

What is moderate drinking?


  • No more than 1 drink a day


  • No more than 2 drinks a day

What is one drink?
1 ounce of distilled spirits (80 proof)
12 ounces of beer
4 ounces of regular wine

People who should not drink alcoholic beverages:

Women who are pregnant or trying to conceive. Major birth defects have been attributed to heavy drinking by the mother while pregnant. Women who are pregnant or trying to conceive should not drink alcoholic beverages. However, there is no conclusive evidence that an occasional drink is harmful.

Individuals who plan to drive or engage in other activities that require attention or skill. Most people retain some alcohol in the blood 3 to 5 hours after even moderate drinking.

Individuals using medicines, even over-the-counter kinds. Alcohol may affect the benefits or toxicity of medications. Also, some medicines may increase blood alcohol levels or increase alcohol’s adverse effect on the brain.

Individuals who cannot keep their drinking moderate. This is a special concern for recovering alcoholics and people whose family members have alcohol problems.

Children and adolescents. Use of alcoholic beverages by children and adolescents involves risks to health and other serious problems.

Heavy drinkers are often malnourished because of low food intake and poor absorption of nutrients by the body. Too much alcohol may cause cirrhosis of the liver, inflammation of the pancreas, damage to the brain and heart, and increased risk for many cancers.

Some studies have suggested that moderate drinking is linked to lower risk for heart attacks. However, drinking is also linked to higher risk for high blood pressure and hemorrhagic stroke.

Amphetamines or Speed (crystal, crank, uppers, white cross) are stimulants, which increase the pace of the body. They erase feelings of fatigue and hunger that causes overloads on all bodily systems and causes the body to literally burn itself up. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are common as well as damage to lungs, liver and kidneys. Use can also bring on psychotic delusional states. They may cause massive sudden increases in blood pressure resulting in cerebral hemorrhage, stroke, or heart failure.

Anabolic Steroids are synthetic versions of testosterone, the male hormone. In small doses, they have legitimate medical uses in cases of soft-tissue injuries, skeletal disorders, malnutrition, and some types of anemia. Health risks with improper use include: edema, hypertension, conversion of latent diabetes into chronic diabetes, testicular shrinkage, increased cholesterol, jaundice, infertility, and significantly depressed testosterone production that may not be reversible. Prostate cancer, if present, will be stimulated. Other side effects include kidney disorders, hardening of the arteries, liver malfunction, and psychiatric problems, including excessive aggression and violence.

Barbiturates, Tranquilizers (Tuinal, Valium, Xanax, reds, rainbows, barbs, blues, Quaaludes, ludes) these are all depressants which affect the brain by slowing down signals it sends to the rest of the body. While the drug is in your body, you may not be able to control your body. They can cause a decrease in respiratory function, loss of consciousness and death.

Cocaine (coke, blow, slake, snow, crack, rock) is a stimulant and can cause paranoia, psychosis, nausea, vomiting, changes in breathing, and increases in body temperature. Death can occur from heart attack, overdose, and interrupted breathing.

Ecstasy (MDMA) is a synthetic drug with amphetamine-like and hallucinogenic properties. Short-term effects include psychological difficulties, including confusion, depression, sleep problems, drug craving, severe anxiety, and paranoia – during and sometimes weeks after taking MDMA, physical symptoms such as muscle tension, involuntary teeth clenching, nausea, blurred vision, rapid eye movement, faintness, and chills or sweating.

Hallucinogens (LSD or acid, peyote, mescaline, psilocybin, etc.) induce a state of excitation of the central nervous system, causing increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, sweating, higher body temperatures, and sensory distortion and hallucinations. Heavy users may experience organic brain damage.

Inhalants (nitrous, whippets, poppers) refer to substances that are sniffed or huffed to give the user an immediate head rush or high. Short-term effects of inhalants include heart palpitations, breathing difficulty, dizziness, and headache. Long-term use has been associated with irreversible brain damage.

Ketamine (Special K) is a central nervous system depressant and a rapid-acting general anesthetic. It has sedative-hypnotic, analgesic, and hallucinogenic properties. Profound hallucinations may occur that include visual distortions and a lost sense of time, sense and identity. Other effects can include delirium, impaired motor function, potentially fatal respiratory problems, convulsion, and vomiting when mixed with alcohol and out of body experiences.

Marijuana (pot, grass, reefer, weed, mary jane) can cause anxiety, paranoia, and an increase in heart and pulse rate. It impairs short-term memory and interferes with learning. Marijuana use increases the heart rate as much as 50% and can bring on chest pains. It is particularly harmful to the lungs and pulmonary function.

Nicotine, contained in tobacco products is highly addictive and, along with other substances in tobacco products, is damaging to many body systems including the heart, lungs, and larynx. Many cancers strike tobacco users at in-creased rates. The use of tobacco products is the chief avoidable cause of death in our society.

Opiates (heroin, junk, smack) or narcotics depress the system. Although specific dangers depend on the opiates used, common dangers include: infections of the heart lining and valves, skin abscesses and congested lungs. Infections from un-sterile solutions, syringes and needles can cause liver disease, tetanus and serum hepatitis. Sharing needles can cause AIDS.

PCP (angel dust) (phencyclidine) causes increased heart rate and blood pressure, sweating, flushing, and dizziness. Large doses may cause convulsions, coma, heart and lung failure or ruptured blood vessels in the brain. PCP can cause violent or bizarre behavior that can lead to death from drowning, burns, falls from high places, and automobile accidents.

Rohypnol and GHB (Roofies, The Date Rape Drug) are illegal drugs that cause dizziness, nausea, blurred vision, and memory loss for several hours. Rohypnol and GHB are used to commit rape when it is added to a person’s drink. The penalties for possessing these drugs are severe. If you choose to drink, obtain your own drink and don’t pick up your drink after you have put it down. If you suspect that you have been drugged, get to a safe place with someone you trust. Testing is available at Speare Memorial Hospital and at Health Services. There have been cases of people dying from ingestion of Rohypnol or GHB.

*NOTE: A more detailed health risks brochure is available upon request from the Student Affairs and the Human Resources Offices.