Main Content Region

Drug Information

Health Risks Associated with the Use of Alcohol and Other Drugs

The following information is meant to be used as a guide to inform you of potential drug and alcohol problems. This information should not be used as a diagnostic tool, nor is the information definitive of substance abuse. If you have concerns about a person’s behavior, please visit the Alcohol and Drug Education webpage.


Alcohol is a depressant that reduces activity in the central nervous system. It can decrease heart rate, lower blood pressure, and decrease respiration rate. Alcohol intoxication lowers inhibitions, impairs judgment, slows reaction times and causes loss of fine motor coordination.

When a person drinks too much, their capacity to process information and make safe decisions is impaired. The risks associated with alcohol misuse include hangover, overdose and addiction. Alcohol misuse and abuse places you at increased risk for physical injury, driving under the influence, sexual assault and other violent behavior. Misusing alcohol can also have a negative impact on academic success, work performance, friendships and family relationships.

Numerous health risks are associated with drinking. Alcohol can interact with many over-the-counter, prescription, and illegal drugs, intensifying the effects of these drugs and leading to potential organ failure or death. Long-term excessive drinking can lead to a variety of health problems such as: decreased brain function; impaired sensation, memory lapses or blackouts, organ damage, and addiction. Research indicates that adult children of alcoholics have as much as a four to six times greater risk of becoming an alcoholic or having a problem with other drugs.

Excessive drinking can result in alcohol poisoning. On average, it takes over an hour to eliminate the alcohol content of one drink from the body. Nothing can speed up this process- not even coffee or cold showers. Drinking too much or drinking a large quantity of alcohol quickly raises one’s blood alcohol content to the point where their body cannot effectively process the alcohol. This can result in overdose and possibly coma or death.


Effects of THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) vary depending on the person, setting, dose, and/or expectation of the user. Marijuana can make it harder to function and succeed in an academic or work setting, particularly when tasks require close attention and thoughtful decision-making. Using marijuana may impair one’s short-term memory, reading comprehension, and capacity to solve verbal and mathematical problems. Increased heart rate and uncomfortable feelings such as paranoia and panic are often experienced with marijuana use. Additionally, regular use may lead to “amotivational syndrome” with symptoms of listlessness, fatigue, inattention, withdrawal and apathy, making it difficult to achieve academic and personal goals.

Coordination is greatly affected by marijuana use since it slows reflexes and impairs visual perception. Driving while under the influence (or being driven by someone else under the influence) can be as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol. Regular use can lead to a variety of health problems such as elevated blood pressure and decreased body temperature; irritation of the mouth, throat, and lungs, and aggravation of asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema; chronic lung disease and cancer. Additionally, one can test positive for marijuana up to 3 months after use.


Inhaling fumes (also known as “huffing”) from chemicals such as paint thinners, glue, gasoline, propane, butane, nitrous oxide, and others can be extremely risky and can cause death. Other health consequences include loss of inhibition, loss of motor coordination and/or muscle weakness, headache, nausea or vomiting, cramps, slurred speech, wheezing, unconsciousness, depression, memory impairment, and/or damage to heart and nervous system.


The ingestion of nicotine through cigarette smoking is highly toxic, addictive, and can result in heart disease, emphysema and cancer. Emphysema destroys the lung’s capacity to expand and contract which causes decreased oxygen intake leading to organ damage. Smoking has been linked to cancers of the lung, mouth, throat, pancreas, cervix, kidney, and bladder. Smoking cigarettes can also affect the health of non-smokers. Environmental tobacco smoke contains many of the toxic substances the smoker inhales. Chewing tobacco and snuff are not safe alternatives to cigarettes. They are highly addictive, contain more nicotine than cigarettes, and cause rapidly-spreading cancers of the mouth, head, and neck.

Ecstasy (MDMA):

Ecstasy (MDMA) is a hallucinogenic-amphetamine that can lead to a variety of physical problems such as cardiac difficulties, dangerously high body temperature, severe thirst and heat exhaustion, sensory distortion and heightened arousal. Even with limited use, it can permanently alter serotonin levels in your brain, which can increase the risk of chronic depression.


Anabolic steroids are synthetic versions of the hormone testosterone. Used medically to supplement normal hormonal levels after injury or disease, others use steroids to gain an edge (albeit illegally) in athletic endeavors. Steroid use can lead to a variety of health problems including high blood pressure, liver disease and cancer. Male users experience testicular atrophy, breast growth, impotence, sexual dysfunction, acne, and aggression (‘roid rage). Female users experience enlarged clitoris, deepened voice, male pattern baldness, and acne. Most of these effects are permanent even after steroid use has ended.


Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant that can lead to serious health problems such as heart attack, respiratory failure, strokes, seizure, and/or death. Common effects of cocaine include damaged nasal tissues, malnutrition, intense anxiety and anger, violent behavior, restlessness, fear, paranoia, depression, and hallucinations.


Amphetamines are highly addictive stimulants that can have severe health consequences, including death. Even limited use can lead to many physical symptoms including increased heart rate and blood pressure; heart, brain, and lung damage, stroke, chronic fatigue and malnutrition. Psychological effects include anxiety, depression, mood swings, hallucinations, paranoia and psychosis.


LSD (acid) can dramatically alter one’s thought processes, mood, and perceptions. Initial effects of LSD are mostly physical and include dilated pupils, muscular weakness, rapid reflexes, decreased appetite, increased blood pressure and increased body temperature. As effects continue, the user begins to experience visual and other sensory distortion, which can result in unusual or frightening hallucinations. LSD can trigger more serious problems such as psychosis for individuals with a history of psychological problems. Effects may recur days or weeks later without further use (flashbacks).


Heroin is a highly addictive opiate that can be lethal in high doses. Health effects of heroin use include drowsiness and loss of appetite, addiction with severe withdrawal symptoms, impaired mental functioning, slowing of reflexes and physical activity; infection, hepatitis, and HIV (from needle sharing), or death from overdose.

Predatory Drugs:

These drugs are given to another person without them knowing, usually by slipping the drug into a drink. Rohypnol (aka. Roofies), is a potent tranquilizer that has been used to facilitate sexual assaults. Effects of the drug occur 20 to 30 minutes after ingestion and leave the person feeling drowsy, dizzy, and disoriented, rendering them helpless and immobile. In addition to these sedative effects, impaired balance and/or speech, and memory loss are common. Like rohypnol, GHB has also been associated with sexual assault. In its clear liquid form, it can easily be slipped into someone’s drink. Effects of the drug can be felt in 15-20 minutes and include dizziness, heavy drowsiness, and confusion.

Some people use GHB to enhance the effects of alcohol or other drugs. This combination can be especially life-threatening due to synergistic effects of the drugs. GHB use can lead to a variety of physical problems such as dizziness, nausea, breathing problems, memory loss, seizures, unconsciousness, and in some cases, death. Originally used as an animal tranquilizer, ketamine is now used as a club drug due to its hallucinogenic effects. Many negative effects can result from ketamine use including vomiting, numbness, loss of muscle control, paranoia, and aggression. In larger doses, effects may include convulsions, decreased oxygen to the brain, coma and even death. Individuals who use ketamine are at increased risk for sexual and physical assault since their loss of muscle control and mental state make them vulnerable to assault.