Substance Use: Alcohol, Drugs, and Tobacco
Sources: Center for Disease Control and Prevention - College Health and Safety and Appendix 4 Complying With the Drug-Free Schools and Campuses Regulations
The pressure to use alcohol, drugs and cigarettes can be huge for some college students, especially when trying to make friends and become part of a group. Drinking on some college campuses is more pervasive and destructive than many people realize. Studies show that four out of five college students drink alcohol. Two out of five report binge drinking (defined as five or more drinks for men and four or more for women in one sitting). One in five students reports three or more binge episodes in the prior two weeks.
Alcohol is a depressant. Alcohol consumption causes a number of marked 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 incidents of a variety of aggressive acts including spouse and child abuse. Moderate to high doses of alcohol cause marked impairments in higher 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. Alcohol withdrawal can be life threatening. Long term consumption of alcohol, particularly when combined with poor nutrition, can also lead to permanent damage to vital organs such as the brain and liver. Mothers who drink alcohol during pregnancy increase the risk of birth defects, spontaneous abortion, and still births. In addition, research indicates that children of alcoholic parents are at a greater risk than other youngsters of becoming alcoholics. Substance abuse often leads to on-the-job accidents and absenteeism.
Alcohol consumption among persons aged 12–20 years contributes to the three leading causes of death (unintentional injury, homicide, and suicide) in this age group in the United States. It is associated with other health-risk behaviors, including high-risk sexual behavior, smoking, and physical fighting.
Club drugs refer to a wide variety of drugs often used at all-night dance parties ("raves"), nightclubs, and concerts. Mixing drugs together or with alcohol is extremely dangerous. The effects of one drug can magnify the effects and risks of another. Taking and/or mixing drugs can cause severe breathing problems, coma, and even death.
The use of alcohol and other drugs increases the risk of being sexually assaulted. Whether taken voluntarily or unknowingly (e.g. a drug is slipped into a person’s drink), alcohol and other drugs can decrease a victim’s ability to assess a risky situation or resist sexual violence.
Tobacco use is common among college students nationwide and is not limited to cigarettes. One study found that the four most common reasons that college students gave for their smoking were stress, less supervision, having more free time, and the number of their friends who smoke. Unfortunately, many students do not realize how addictive nicotine is. Smoking causes cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other problems.
- Educate yourself about the dangers of drinking and binge drinking. Become familiar with campus resources (e.g., student health services) that can help you make informed choices about the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.
- Help develop and participate in evening and weekend activities on campus featuring safe and healthy alternatives.
- Work with campus leaders to increase the availability of safe places on campus to meet with friends.
- If you are concerned about your or someone else's use of alcohol or other drugs, seek assistance from your parents, faculty advisor, student health/counseling services, or doctor.
- Know that you CAN quit. Quitting has both immediate and long-term benefits.
- Avoid second-hand smoke. It is just as harmful as if you were smoking yourself.
- Don’t drive after drinking or using drugs.