Numerous health risks have been identified with the use of illicit drugs and excessive use of alcohol.  Abusers can lose resistance to disease, develop physical and psychological dependence, become depressed, develop heart problems, contract infections, or become malnourished, physically exhausted, and even die.  Reality is often distorted, reactions may be slower, and the risk of accidents can increase.  Extended substance abuse can cause coma, respiratory arrest, and convulsions.  Injected drugs increase the risk for infectious diseases such as hepatitis and AIDS.  Body systems are affected.  The liver, lungs, and heart are damaged.  For women, there is an increase in birth defects associated with using drugs and alcohol during pregnancy.

Outlined below is a listing of drugs of abuse and their health risks.


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 incidence of a variety of aggressive acts, including spouse and child abuse.  Moderate to high doses of alcohol cause marked impairment in higher mental functions, severely altering a person's ability to learn and remember information.  Very high doses cause respiratory depression, and may cause 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 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 and mental deficiencies.  In addition, research indicates that children of alcoholic parents are at greater risk than other children of becoming alcoholics.  Alcohol use is often related to acquaintance rape and failure to protect oneself from sexually transmitted diseases.  Additionally, alcohol-related accidents are the number one cause of death in the 16- to 24-year-old age group.


Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, accounting for 480,000 deaths.  Smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to develop heart disease, stroke and lung cancer.  Estimates show that smoking increases the risk for coronary heart disease and stroke by 2 to 4 times, and of men and women developing lung cancer by approximately 25 times.  Overall health is diminished, which increases absenteeism from school and work, and increases health care utilization and cost.  Additionally, smoking can cause cancer almost anywhere in the body, and increases the risk of dying from cancer and other diseases. For more detailed information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web page at the following link:  CDC - Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking.

E-cigarettes are devices that heat a liquid into an aerosol that the user inhales.  The liquid usually has nicotine and flavoring in it, and other additives.  E-cigarettes are considered tobacco products because most of them contain nicotine, which comes from tobacco.  Besides nicotine, e-cigarettes can contain harmful and potentially harmful ingredients, including ultra-fine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs, flavorants such as diacetyl (a chemical linked to serious lung disease), volatile organic compounds, and heavy metals, such as nickel, tin, and lead. 

For more information on these topics, including Shasta College policies regarding smoking areas, e-cigarettes, and chew tobacco, visit the SC Health & Wellness web page at the following link:  Shasta College Smoking and Tobacco Use Policy


Narcotics (including heroin, morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, codeine, and others) have a high potential for both physical and psychological dependence as well as resulting in increased tolerance.  The possible effects of using narcotics include euphoria, drowsiness, respiratory depression, constricted pupils, and nausea.  Overdose may result in shallow breathing, clammy skin, convulsions, coma, and death.  Withdrawal may include irritability, tremors, panic, nausea, chills, and sweating.

Other Depressants

Other depressants (including GHB or liquid ecstasy, valium, xanax, ambien, and barbituates) have a potential for both physical and psychological dependence as well as resulting in increased tolerance. The possible side effects include slurred speech, disorientation, appearance of intoxication, and impaired memory.  Overdose may result in shallow respiration, clammy skin, dilated pupils, weak and rapid pulse, coma, and possible death. Withdrawal may include anxiety, insomnia, tremors, delirium, convulsions, and possible death.


Stimulants (including cocaine, methamphetamine, and methylphenidate) have a possible risk of physical dependence and high risk for psychological dependence.  Tolerance can develop in all stimulants.  The possible side effects include increased alertness, excitation, euphoria, increased pulse rate and blood pressure, insomnia, and decreased appetite.  Overdose may result in agitation, increased body temperature, hallucinations, convulsions, and possible death.  Withdrawal may result in apathy, long periods of sleep, irritability, depression, and disorientation.


Hallucinogens (including MDMA, LSD, Phencyclidine, and others) are less likely to result in physical dependence, with the exceptin of phencyclidines and analogs, and vary in terms of psychologcal dependence, ranging from none to moderate (MDMA) to high (phencyclidine and analogs).  Tolerance can develop.  Possible effects include heightened senses, teeth grinding, and dehydration (MDMA and analogs) and hallucinations, and altered perception of time and distance in other types of hallucinogens.  Oversode may result in increased body temperature and cardiac arrest for MDMA and more intense episodes for LSD.  Some hallucinogens may result in muscle aches and depression when in withdrawal (MDMA) or may result in drug seeking behavior.


Cannabis includes marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and hashish or hashish oil.  All may result in moderate psychological dependence with THC resulting in physical dependence.  Tolerance can develop in all forms.  Possible effects include euphoria, relaxed inhibitions, increased appetite, and disorientation.  Overdose may result in fatigue, paranoia, and possible psychosis.  Withdrawal may occasionally result in insomnia, hyperactivity, and decreased appetite.

Anabolic Steroids

Anabolic Steroids (including testosterone and others) may result in psychological dependence.  Less is known as to their potential for physical dependence and increased tolerance levels.  Possible effects may include virilization, edema, testicular atrophy, gymecomastia, acne, and aggressive behavior.  Effects of overdose are unknown.  Withdrawal may possibly include depression.


Inhalants (including amyl and butyl nitrite, nitrous oxide, and others) vary in their level of psychological dependence, with less known about their potential for physical dependence and tolerance.  Possible effects may include flushing, hypotension, headache, impaired memory, slurred speech, drunken behavior, vitamin deficiency, and organ damage.  Overdose may result in methemoglobinemia, vomiting, respiratory depression, loss of consciousness, and possible death.  Withdrawal may result in agitation, trembling, anxiety, insomnia, confusion, hallucinations, and convulsions.

For more detailed information on the health risks of illicit drugs, visit the Drug Enforcement Administration web page at the following link:  DEA - Drug Fact Sheets