Student Health Center

Alcohol and Other Drugs

Alcohol and other drugs are prevalent on college campuses. Whether you are concerned about legal drugs such as alcohol, or illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, or ecstasy, everyone has to make decisions about drugs. You must first realize that the decision to use alcohol or other drugs is a personal one with potentially serious legal and health consequences. It is up to you to determine if, when, and how much you drink or use. Know your limits and weaknesses and take responsibility for them. Consider your reasons for using alcohol or other drugs. Is it to feel good, or to be more socially comfortable? What are your alternatives? Which ones are healthy? Which ones carry potential judicial and legal sanctions?


Alcohol is a depressant drug that decreases body processes such as breathing, heartbeat, and brain activity. Its consumption changes behavior and judgment beginning with the first drink; those changes are progressive. The impact of any number of drinks on behavior and judgment varies for each individual and depends on social and physical factors. Social factors include mood and setting. Physical factors include:

  • gender - women usually feel the effects of alcohol faster than a man of the same weight does)
  • body weight
  • amount of food in the stomach
  • type of drink
  • rate at which the alcohol enters the system - see for Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) information
  • prescription and over-the-counter medications affect alcohol metabolism

Health effects of alcohol include hangover, dehydration, impotence, liver and brain damage; overdose or mixing with other drugs can cause respiratory failure and death.

Whether you are over or under the legal drinking age, you cannot avoid making decisions about drinking - at parties, on dates, or in your room. The consequences of making poor decisions about drinking can increase your risk of academic failure, getting a sexually transmitted infection, and being involved in sexual or physical assaults. They can also increase your risk of developing a long-term drinking problem. Careless decisions about drinking - made at the last minute or when you have already begun drinking - usually have the worst consequences. But you can make good decisions - before you drink, that will protect you and those you care about. Begin with the facts and an honest assessment of your current drinking habits . and be a helpful and responsible host to others.

Responsible Hospitality

The following are suggestions for students over 21 for their own safety and the safety of their guests:

  1. Always have a designated driver
  2. Limit the amount you drink; sip slowly and space drinks over time (it takes the liver about an hour to process 1 drink - 12 oz beer, 4 oz wine, 1 oz hard liquor)
  3. Eat heavy meals or dairy products before or while drinking - these foods slow down absorption
  4. Avoid salty food (peanuts, popcorn, chips) that will make you more thirsty
  5. Drink diluted alcoholic beverages - beer, wine, or mixed drinks rather than "straight shots"; avoid carbonated mixers or sparkling wines - they speed the alcohol into your blood stream
  6. Never accept an open drink from anyone. Rohypnol or the "date rape drug" is a potent, fast-acting sleeping pill that is undetectable when slipped into the drink of an unsuspecting man or woman.

Drugs may have both short-term and long-term health effects depending on many factors such as the type and quantity of drug, how often someone uses it, the physical and emotional health of the user and combinations of drugs and/or with alcohol. Even infrequent use of drugs can result in physical problems such as hangovers, digestive problems, heart damage, decreased sexual performance, and injuries due to lack of coordination and judgement. Other possible effects include impaired performance in class and at work, relationship conflicts and financial difficulties.

A Psychoactive drug is defined as a chemical or drug that has a specific effect on the mind. There are three basic categories of psychoactive drugs: stimulants, psychedelics, and depressants.

  • Stimulants - also called uppers - increase alertness, energy, physical activity and feelings of well being. Some examples are cocaine, amphetamines such as speed and crystal meth, nicotine, and caffeine.
  • Psychedelics - also called hallucinogens - can cause visual, auditory, and other sensory hallucinations. Examples are LSD (acid), peyote, and psilocybin.
  • "Club drugs" combine the properties of both stimulants and hallucinogens. The effect is a heightened sensitivity to sensory input without hallucinations or other major perceptual distortions. Examples are ecstasy, ketamine and GHB and are prevalent at "raves."
  • Depressants - also called downers - decrease body processes such as breathing, heartbeat, and brain activity. Examples are alcohol, barbiturates, rohypnol ("date rape drug"), tranquilizers, and inhalants.

Marijuana (pot) is a form of cannabis that is the most widely used illegal drug in America. When smoked, marijuana triggers a mild euphoria and a heightened sensitivity of bodily sensations, along with a variety of other perceptual distortions that are usually experienced as pleasant - but not always, and not by all users. Research shows that marijuana affects the balance of chemicals in the brain that control mood, energy, appetite, and concentration.

Psychoactive drugs are most frequently used for "recreational" purposes. Many produce tolerance and dependence (psychological, physical, or both). The more frequently a person uses a drug and/or the larger the dose, the greater his or her tolerance to the drug. This means that over time, larger quantities may be needed to produce the desired effect.

Although dependence is associated with tolerance, it is not the same thing. A person who is physically dependent on a drug needs it to function "normally". When the drug is discontinued, withdrawal symptoms occur that can be both painful and even life threatening. Taking the drug again relieves these withdrawal symptoms, but only temporarily.

A person who is psychologically dependent feels he or she cannot function "normally" without the drug. While there may be no physical illness associated with quitting, there can be severe mental and emotional distress that prompts the person to continue using the drug.

How do I know if I have a problem?

The line between drug and alcohol use and abuse is very fine. Abuse is usually described in terms of the drug being used, the situation in which it is used, and the consequences the person experiences from using it. Warning signs of an alcohol or other drug problem are not always dramatic. They have more to do with attitude and their affect on interpersonal relationships, school or work performance than with "passing out" or medical emergencies.

The following questions can help to identify dependence. Are you:

  • Steadily drinking or using more at a time or more often?
  • Setting limits on how much, how often, when, or where you will drink or use other drugs and repeatedly violating your own limits?
  • Keeping a large supply on hand, or becoming concerned when you run low?
  • Drinking or using other drugs before you go out with friends who don't or before going places where alcohol or drugs are not available, such as class, work, etc.?
  • Drinking or using other drugs alone?
  • Drinking or using other drugs every day?
  • Spending more money than you can afford on alcohol or other drugs?
  • Doing or saying things when you are under the influence that you regret or don't remember later?
  • Lying to friends and family about your drinking or other drug use?
    Becoming accident-prone when you are under the influence such as falling or dropping things?
  • Regularly hung over in the morning?
  • Worrying about your drinking or other drug use?
  • Having academic problems such as missing class, difficulty studying or poor grades?
  • Reducing contact with friends, or experiencing increased problems with important relationships?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you should consider consulting a counselor or health professional. While one "yes" does not mean you are dependent, it suggests that your drinking and/or other drug use may cause you some problems.

Where do I get help?

There are no quick cures for alcohol or other drug problems. However, there are resources on campus for evaluation and support. Early intervention can help avoid the harmful effects of long-term alcohol or other drug use. All information is strictly confidential and will not be released to anyone without your written consent.

What should I do if I suspect that a friend has had too much to drink and/or taken drugs?

Signs of Alcohol Poisoning or Drug Overdose

How to Help a Friend:

  • Observe for signals of change in behavior - your friend may be agitated, belligerent, risk-taking, and be a danger to themselves or others.
  • Try to wake your friend - if your friend does not respond, there may be a serious problem.
  • Listen to your friends' breathing - is it regular or does it seem shallow or too slow (less than 8 times a minute)?
  • Check your friends' skin - is it normal color or does it seem pale or bluish; does it seem cold or clammy?

Take Action!

  • If you discover any one of the above problems, call CAMPUS SAFETY
  • On Campus and residence halls - x333 (V) or 5-6654 (TTY)
  • Apartments and Off Campus - 475-3333(v) or 475- 6654 (TTY) or 911
  • Stay with your friend while waiting for help
  • Make sure your friend is lying on his or her side to prevent choking in case of vomiting

You may save a life!


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