Alcohol consumption causes a number of changes in behavior. Even low doses significantly impair the judgment and coordination required to drive a car safely, increasing the likelihood that the driver will be involved in an accident. Low to moderate doses of alcohol also increase the incidence of a variety of aggressive acts. 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 cause respiratory depression and death. If combined with other depressants of the central nervous system, much lower doses of alcohol will produce the effects just described. Repeated use of alcohol can lead to dependence. Sudden cessation of alcohol intake is likely to produce withdrawal symptoms, including severe anxiety, tremors, hallucinations and convulsions. Long-term consumption of large quantities of alcohol can also lead to permanent damage to vital organs such as the brain and the liver. Mothers who drink during pregnancy may give birth to infants with fetal alcohol syndrome. These infants have irreversible physical abnormalities and mental retardation. In addition, research indicates that children of alcoholic parents are at greater risk than others of developing alcohol related problems.
In 1989, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a report that concluded that cigarettes and other forms of tobacco, such as cigars, pipe tobacco and chewing tobacco, are addictive and that nicotine is the drug in tobacco that causes addiction. In addition, the report determined that smoking was a major cause of stroke and the third leading cause of death in the United States. Nicotine is both a stimulant and a sedative to the central nervous system. Nicotine is absorbed readily from tobacco smoke in the lungs, and it does not matter whether the tobacco smoke is from cigarettes, cigars, or pipes, Nicotine also is absorbed readily when tobacco is chewed.
In addition to nicotine, cigarette smoke is primarily composed of a dozen gases (mainly carbon monoxide) and tar. The tar in a cigarette, which varies from about 15 mg for a regular cigarette to 7 mg in a low-tar cigarette, exposes the user to a high expectancy rate of lung cancer, emphysema, and bronchial disorders. The carbon monoxide in the smoke increases the chance of cardiovascular diseases. The Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that secondhand smoke causes lung cancer in adults and greatly increases the risk of respiratory illnesses in children and sudden infant death.
Prescription drugs that are abused or used for non-medical reasons can alter brain activity and lead to dependence. Commonly abused classes of prescription drugs include opioids (often prescribed in the treatment of pain), central nervous system depressants (often prescribed to treat anxiety and sleep disorders), and stimulants (prescribed to treat narcolepsy, ADHD, and obesity). Long-term use of opioids or central nervous system depressants can lead to physical dependence and addiction. Taken in high doses, stimulants can lead to compulsive use, paranoia, dangerously high body temperatures and irregular heartbeat.
Marijuana use can lead to a number of long term and short term physical and psychological effects. Marijuana use leads to a substantial increase in the heart rate, impairs short term memory and comprehension and motivation can be altered.
Health risks may include changes in body temperature and blood pressure as well as heart and breathing rates. Even small amounts may cause the body to exceed its own limits, sometimes resulting in death. Snorting cocaine may severely damage nasal tissue and the septum. Smoking cocaine may damage the lungs. Someone using cocaine may experience muscle twitching, panic reactions, anxiety, numbness in hands and feet, loss of weight, a period of hyperactivity followed by a crash, a runny or bleeding nose, and depression. Other symptoms of cocaine use may include nausea, vomiting, insomnia, tremors, and convulsions. Chronic users may become paranoid and/or experience hallucinations.
In small doses, barbiturates produce calmness, relaxed muscles, and lowered anxiety. Larger doses cause slurred speech, staggering gait, and altered perception. Very large doses or doses taken in combination with other central nervous system depressants (e.g.,alcohol) may cause respirator depression, coma and even death. A person who uses barbiturates may have poor muscle control, appear drowsy or drunk, become confused, irritable, or inattentive, or have slowed reactions.
Amphetamines, methamphetamines, or other stimulants can cause increased heart rate and respiratory rates, elevated blood pressure, and dilated pupils. Larger doses cause rapid or irregular heartbeat, tremors, and physical collapse. An amphetamine injection creates a sudden increase in blood pressure that can result in stroke, high fever, heart failure and death. An individual using amphetamines might begin to lose weight, have the sweats, and appear restless, anxious, moody, and unable to focus. Extended use may produce psychosis, including hallucinations, delusions and paranoia.
PCP, or angel dust, interrupts the part of the brain that controls the intellect and keeps instincts in check. PCP blocks pain receptors. Violent episodes, including self-inflicted injuries, are not uncommon. Chronic users report memory loss and speech difficulty. Very large doses produce convulsions, coma, heart and lung failure, or ruptured blood vessels in the brain. LSD, mescaline, peyote, etc. cause dilated pupils, elevated body temperature, increased heart rate and blood pressure and tremors. Someone under the influence of PCP might appear moody, aggressive, or violent. Sleeplessness, confusion, anxiety, and panic, and may report perceptual distortions, and flashbacks may occur.
Anabolic steroids are human-made substances related to male sex hormones. Some athletes abuse anabolic steroids to enhance performance. Abuse of anabolic steroids can lead to serious health problems, some of which are irreversible. Short term side effects include depression, hallucinations, paranoia, severe mood swings and aggressive behavior. Major side effects also can include liver tumors and cancer, jaundice, high blood pressure, kidney tumors, severe acne and trembling. In males side effects may include shrinking of the testicles and breast development. In females, side effects may include growth of facial hair, menstrual changes and deepened voice. In teenagers, growth may be halted prematurely and permanently.
Because narcotics are generally injected, the use of contaminated needles may result in the contraction of many different diseases, including AIDS and hepatitis. Symptoms of overdose include shallow breathing, clammy skin, convulsions, and coma and may result in death. Some signs of narcotic use are euphoria, drowsiness, constricted pupils, and nausea. Other symptoms include itchy skin, needle or “track” marks on the arms and legs, nodding, lack of sex drive and appetite, sweating, cramps and nausea when withdrawing from the drug.
It is important to note that individuals experience alcohol and drugs in different ways based on physical tolerance, body size and gender, and on a variety of other physical and psychological factors. The health risks associated with the misuse and abuse of drugs, including controlled substances and alcohol, include but are not limited to: Physical and psychological dependence; damage to the brain, pancreas, kidneys, and lungs; high blood pressure; heart attacks; strokes, ulcers, birth defects; a diminished immune system; and death.