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Health Effects of Drugs and Alcohol

Health Risks
The following are summaries of major health risks and common symptoms associated with alcohol and other drug use and abuse. This is not a complete listing but an overview. Each individual will experience the effects of alcohol and other drugs in a slightly different way given his or her body size, family history, gender, tolerance, and other physical and psychological factors. Abuse of alcohol and other drugs can be harmful during pregnancy and can lead to chemical dependency or death. For more information please see the National Institute on Drug Abuse website

Alcohol in moderate amounts causes dizziness, dulling of the senses, and impairment of coordination, reflexes, memory and judgment. Increased amounts of alcohol produce staggering, slurred speech, double vision, mood changes and unconsciousness. Larger amounts result in death. Alcohol causes damage to the liver, heart and pancreas. It may also lead to malnutrition, stomach irritation, lowered resistance to disease and irreversible brain or nervous system damage. Symptoms: Glazed eyes, obvious odor, pale and dry skin, broken blood vessels in facial area, slowed motor coordination and enlarged stomach.

Marijuana use leads to a substantial increase in heart rate. It impairs or reduces short-term memory and comprehension; motivation and cognition are altered. With extended use it can produce paranoia and psychosis. Smoking marijuana damages the lungs and pulmonary system. Marijuana lowers male sex hormones, suppresses ovulation, causes changes in the menstrual cycle and possibly causes birth defects. Symptoms: Laughing inappropriately, bloodshot eyes, dry mouth and throat, a tell-tale odor of the drug, a poor sense of timing and increased appetite.

Narcotics (including Heroin, Codeine, Morphine, Opium, Percodan)
Because these narcotics are generally injected, the use of contaminated needles may result in AIDS and hepatitis. Symptoms of overdose include shallow breathing, clammy skin and convulsions. An overdose may result in a coma or death. Symptoms: Some signs of narcotic use are euphoria, drowsiness, constricted pupils and nausea. Other symptoms include itchy skin, needle or "track" marks on the arms and legs, nodding, loss of sex drive and appetite. When withdrawing from the drug, sweating, cramps and nausea occur.

Stimulants (including Amphetamines, Cocaine, Crack)
Stimulant use causes increased heart and respiratory rates, elevated blood pressure, and dilated pupils. Larger doses cause rapid or irregular heartbeat, tremors and physical collapse, tactile hallucinations, paranoia, seizures and death. An amphetamine injection creates a sudden increase in blood pressure that can result in stroke, high fever and heart failure. Symptoms: An individual using stimulants might begin to lose weight, have periods of excessive sweating, and appear restless, anxious, moody and unable to focus. Extended use may produce psychosis, including hallucinations, delusions and paranoia.

Hallucinogens (including PCP, LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Psilocybin)
PCP, or angel dust, interrupts the part of the brain that controls the intellect and impulsive behavior. PCP blocks pain receptors. Violent episodes, including self-inflected injuries, are not uncommon. Chronic users report memory loss and speech difficulty. Very large doses produce convulsions, coma, heart and lung failure, or ruptured blood vessels in the brain. LSD, mescaline, peyote, etc. cause dilated pupils, elevated body temperature, increased heart rate and blood pressure, and tremors. Symptoms: Someone using PCP might appear moody, aggressive or violent. Such an individual may become paranoid and experience hallucinations and have time and body movements slowed. LSD users may experience loss of appetite, sleeplessness, confusion, anxiety and panic. Flashbacks may also occur.

Prescription Drug Abuse
Commonly abused classes of prescription drugs include opioids for pain (e.g. hydrocodone, oxycodone), central nervous system depressants for anxiety and sleep disorders (e.g. alprazolam, valium), and stimulants for ADHD and narcolepsy (e.g. Adderall, dextroamphetamine). Abuse of prescription opioids may cause drowsiness, nausea, constipation, confusion, slowed breathing, death. Abuse of CNS depressants may cause slurred speech, poor concentration, confusion, dizziness, problems with movement and memory, lowered blood pressure, slowed breathing, seizures, and death. Abuse of prescription stimulants may cause euphoria; slurred speech; increased heart rate, blood pressure and temperature; numbness; dizziness; nausea; vomiting; confusion; paranoia; altered visual perceptions, and seizures.

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