Health Risks of Alcohol and Other Drugs

Alcohol is a depressant that is absorbed into the bloodstream and transmitted to all systems in the body. Even light to moderate doses reduce physical coordination and mental alertness, making activities such as sports and driving dangerous. Moderate doses of alcohol cause staggering, slurred speech, double vision, mood swings and unconsciousness. Persistent impotence and loss of libido as well as hepatitis, esophagitis and pancreatitis may occur with heavy alcohol use. Long-term alcohol use increases the risk of liver disease, heart disease, peptic ulcers, certain types of cancer, complicated pregnancies, birth defects and brain damage. Heavy or binge drinking may even result in respiratory depression and death.

Alcohol use can also cause mood changes and loss of inhibitions as well as violent or self-destructive behavior. Alcohol may produce a strong psychological dependence and can create a physiological addiction that is dangerous. Alcohol is a contributing factor in many accidents and tragedies.

Blood-alcohol content refers to the amount of alcohol in an individual's bloodstream. A person's size, gender, weight, fat content and amount of food in the stomach will affect the absorption of alcohol in the bloodstream. The predominant factor in absorption is the metabolism of alcohol by the liver. When alcohol enters the bloodstream, 95 percent is metabolized by the liver and 5 percent is excreted in breath, sweat and urine. The liver takes about one hour to metabolize one drink.

Remember, just one drink can impair your skills and judgment. It is risky to operate any machinery or engage in any activity that requires concentration and alertness after drinking any amount of alcohol.

One drink is 12 oz. of beer, 1 1/4 oz. of 80 proof liquor, or 4 oz. of wine.

You can receive a BAC chart for your weight and gender by stopping at Outreach Education - Alcohol/Drug Program in Weygand Hall.

Getting Help

There are many resources available for students, staff or faculty experiencing problems with alcohol or drug abuse. If you want help or have questions, contact one of the following sources:

On Campus Resources/Referrals:

  • Counseling Center
    • Weygand Hall
    • 508.531.1331
  • Health Promotion, Wellness Center
    • Weygand Hall
    • 508.531.2200
  • Health Services
    • Weygand Hall
    • 508.531.1252
  • Human Resources
    • Boyden Hall 103
    • 508.531.1324

Off-Campus Resources/Referrals: 

  • Al-Anon (for anyone affected by someone else's drinking)
  • Alcoholics Anonymous Central Service Committee of Eastern Massachusetts
  • Massachusetts Substance Abuse Information and Education Helpline
    • 1.800.327.5050

"Getting hooked" on a substance can be as subtle as a cup of coffee "to start the day" or a drink to "unwind." Either way, you are still depending on that substance to alter your mood. A lot of people find it difficult to tell the difference between social drinking, problem drinking and alcoholism.

Substance abuse develops through a pattern of several stages. The more of these signs a person exhibits the more severe the problem.

During social drinking alcoholic beverages are consumed in moderation - a glass of wine at dinner, a beer or two at a party.

Problem drinking generally involves occasional to frequent consumption to intoxication; difficulty with relationships; becoming sick/hung over; beginning of psychological dependence; the need to drink to have fun; aggression/ getting in fights; missed or skipped classes.

Early stage dependency generally involves frequent drinking to intoxication; occasional solitary drinking; drinking at inappropriate times; blackouts - forgetting all or part of what happened while drinking; difficulty with stopping after the first drink; drinking as a way to escape problems, relieve tension, anxiety and inhibitions.

Middle stage dependency generally involves difficulty in achieving an alcohol induced high regardless of quantity consumed; drinking in secret; lying about amount consumed; avoiding talking about alcohol and getting upset if someone brings up the subject; guilt feelings; increased blackouts; possible drinking in the morning or alone.

Late stage dependency generally involves drinking as the person's primary activity, symptoms include: consistent heavy drinking; further denial of drinking activity and alibis for behavior; pressure from family and friends to stop drinking; work, financial and legal problems; guilt and remorse; development of other health problems such as ulcers, frequent colds, skin problems, liver problems, etc.

Other Drugs

Cocaine, a central nervous system stimulant, is very addictive. The odorless, white powder comes in various forms, "crack" being one of the most popular. Cocaine creates a high in the user, which causes alertness, excitement, talkativeness, overconfidence and a lessened need for sleep. After the high, the "crash" occurs including depression, restlessness, anxiety and impaired concentration. Repeated use of cocaine will lead to addiction and other complications including heart failure, family, school and financial problems.

Hallucinogens include LSD (D-lysergic acid diethylamide), DMT (dimethyltryptamine), mescaline, mushrooms (psilocybin), Ecstasy, angel dust and PCP. They cause increased pulse rate and blood pressure, tearing of the eyes, visual hallucinations, illusions, sensory confusion and altered time perception. The most common adverse effect is a panic reaction. Extreme agitation or delirium may occur. Some people have psychotic episodes or flashbacks, which may occur long after use. The major danger from this group of drugs is markedly impaired judgment with hallucinations, predisposing the individual to accidents and bizarre behavior that can result in death.

Marijuana can cause psychological dependence. It produces a feeling of relaxation, mild euphoria and increased heart rate. However, altered perceptions and sensations can make a person more prone to accidents, making driving a substantial risk. An adverse effect of the drug is acute panic reaction. High doses may cause hallucinations, paranoia and delirium. Male chronic users can experience impaired production of male hormones, causing breast enlargement and a reduced sperm count. Female chronic users can have egg damage, suppression of ovulation, disrupted menstrual cycles and altered hormone levels. The tars and other gasses in the smoke increase the risk of respiratory diseases and lung cancer, similar to those related to nicotine.

Opiates include heroin, morphine, Demerol and Percodan, among other drugs. They produce euphoria, drowsiness and respiratory depression. Over dosage causes coma, respiratory arrest and death. The physiological addiction is very strong; tolerance and dependence develop quickly, requiring higher doses to produce an effect. Because these drugs are often injected, use of shared or unclean needles and syringes may result in Hepatitis B infection and HIV/AIDS, as well as endocarditis, an infection of the heart muscle; all may result in death.

Prescription drugs such as tranquilizers, barbiturates and depressants are legal for the prescribed user and can often be the first abused drugs. Even in small amounts, these drugs slow reaction time and interfere with judgment. Alcohol use greatly increases the effects of these drugs, and can cause a fatal overdose when combined with prescription drugs.

Steroids are used by some people to increase their body's performance. Although performance is temporarily increased, the side effects are very harmful to the body. Long term effects include heart, kidney and liver trouble, high blood pressure, diabetes, poor healing after injury, muscle and tendon tears and psychological problems with aggression and depression. Short-term effects include impotence, balding, acne, decreased hormone levels and psychological problems such as increased aggressive behavior. Steroids may temporarily enlarge the body muscles, but without constant use and exercise, the muscles will decrease quickly.

Smoking and Tobacco use are prohibited on all University property. Nicotine, the active ingredient in tobacco stimulates the central nervous system and is physically and psychologically addictive. Nicotine irritates lung tissues and increases blood pressure. The most common cause of cancer deaths is cigarette smoking. Smoking is the major cause of chronic bronchitis and emphysema and also causes pneumonia, coronary heart disease, blood vessel disease and stomach ulcers.