Health Risks

Health Effects of Alcohol and Other Drugs

This is a brief summary of some of the principal health risks and hazards associated with the use of illicit drugs and alcohol. It is neither comprehensive nor exhaustive.

Alcohol

Alcohol consumption may cause 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, including spouse and child abuse. 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, convulsions, or potentially delirium tremens. Alcohol withdrawal can be life threatening. Long-term consumption of large quantities of alcohol, particularly when combined with poor nutrition, can also lead to permanent damage to vital organs such as the brain and the liver.

Mothers who drink alcohol 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 other youngsters of becoming alcoholics.

Narcotics

Narcotics including opioids such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, heroin, and fentanyl can cause euphoria, drowsiness, respiratory depression, constricted pupils, and nausea. The symptoms of an overdose of narcotics are slow and shallow breathing, clammy skin, convulsions, coma, and possible death. Persons experiencing withdrawal from addiction to narcotics can experience watery eyes, runny nose, yawning, loss of appetite, irritability, tremors, panic, cramps, nausea, chills, and sweating.

Depressants

Depressants such as barbiturates and benzodiazepines (Xanax, etc.) can cause slurred speech, disorientation, and drunken behavior. An overdose of a depressant results in shallow respiration, clammy skin, dilated pupils, weak and rapid pulse, coma, and possible death. Withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, insomnia, tremors, delirium, convulsions, and possible death.

Stimulants

Stimulants such as amphetamines, methylphenidate, and cocaine (or its derivative, crack cocaine) can cause increased alertness or euphoria, an increased pulse rate and blood pressure, insomnia, and loss of appetite. An overdose of stimulants results in agitation, anxiety, an increase in body temperature, hallucinations, convulsions, and possible death. Withdrawal symptoms include apathy, long periods of sleep, irritability, depression, and/or disorientation.

Hallucinogens

Hallucinogens such as LSD, mushrooms or psilocybin, and club or “designer drugs” cause illusions and hallucinations and poor perception of time and distance. The effects of an overdose include psychosis and possible death.

Marijuana

Marijuana, THC infused edibles, and hashish can cause euphoria, increased appetite, relaxed inhibitions, and disoriented behavior. The effects of an overdose include fatigue, paranoia, and possible psychosis. Withdrawal symptoms include insomnia, hyperactivity, difficulty with attention, cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, and decreased appetite.

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