Alcohol and Other Drugs Risks

Health Risks

Improper use of drugs or alcohol can seriously injure the health of employees and students, impair the performance of their responsibilities and endanger the safety and well-being of fellow employees, students and members of the general public.  Many well-documented risks are associated with alcohol and other drugs, affecting not only the individual user but also the user’s family, friends and communities. Alcohol is frequently implicated in cases of sexual misconduct on campus, and the misuse of other drugs is sometimes a factor in other violent behavior. Problems associated with alcohol and other drugs include impaired brain function; poor academic or job performance; relationship difficulties, including sexual dysfunction; a tendency toward verbal and physical violence; financial distress; injuries or accidents; violations of the law such as driving under the influence; willfully destroying property; and death.


For men, at-risk alcohol consumption is drinking more than four standard doses (or drinks) of alcohol a day and/or more than 14 drinks per week. For women, at-risk drinking is drinking more than three standard doses (or drinks) drinks a day and/or more than seven drinks a week. (One drink is equal to 12 oz. beer, 5 oz. wine, or 1.5 oz. liquor.) While any alcohol use has the potential to contribute to problems (e.g., alcohol use impairs brain function and motor skills even when not legally drunk), studies show that certain “at-risk” drinking patterns are associated with an increased likelihood of negative outcomes.

At-risk drinking can cause poor performance in school or at work, accidents, injuries, arguments, legal problems (including DUI), strained relationships, undesirable or even dangerous sex, and verbal or physical violence, including the perpetration of sexual assault. At-risk and other risky patterns of alcohol consumption also contribute to sleep problems, prolonged intoxication aka hangovers, cancer, liver disease, stroke, depression, anxiety, Alcohol Use Disorder and Alcohol Dependence.

Alcohol consumption is involved in the majority of violent acts on campuses, including sexual assault, vandalism, fights, and accidents involving cars, pedestrians and bicycles.

Alcohol-Related Short-Term Health Risks

Excessive alcohol use has immediate effects that increase the risk of many harmful health conditions. There are most often the result of binge drinking and include the following:

  • Injuries, such as motor vehicle crashes, falls, drownings, and burns
  • Violence, including homicide, suicide, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence
  • Risky sexual behaviors, including unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners (These behaviors can result in unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.)
  • Miscarriage and stillbirth or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) among pregnant women

Alcohol-Related Long-Term Health Risks

Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems including:

  • High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems
  • Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver and colon
  • Learning and memory problems, including dementia and poor school performance
  • Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety
  • Social problems, including lost productivity, family problems, and unemployment
  • Alcohol dependence or alcoholism

Additional information about alcohol-related health risks can be found: Center for Disease Control Fact Sheet, Alcohol Use & Your Health. 

Illicit Drug Use

Short-term effects can range from changes in appetite, wakefulness, heart rate, blood pressure, and/or mood to heart attack, stroke, psychosis, overdose, and even death. These health effects may occur after just one use.  

Longer-term effects can include heart and lung disease, cancer, mental illness, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and others. Long-term drug use can also lead to addiction. Drug addiction is a brain disorder. Not everyone who uses drugs will become addicted, but for some, drug use can change how certain brain circuits work. These brain changes interfere with how people experience normal pleasures in life such as food and sex, their ability to control their stress level, their decision-making, their ability to learn and remember, etc. These changes make it much more difficult for someone to stop taking the drug even when it’s having negative effects on their life and they want to quit.  

THC and other cannabinoids

THC, is the primary mind-altering chemical from the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica, plant. THC is found in marijuana as well as concentrated THC extracts and resins.  THC is stored in the fat cells of the body and can stay in the body from a few days to about two months. Short-term use impairs or distorts short-term memory and comprehension and alters the user’s sense of time, and reduces coordination.

Physical effects of use include breathing problems, increased heart rate, problems with child development during and after pregnancy, and with chronic use, intense nausea and vomiting. Long-term marijuana use has been linked to impaired brain development in adolescents and mental illness in some people, such as temporary hallucinations, temporary paranoia, and worsening symptoms in patients with schizophrenia.

Cocaine (crack and other stimulants)

The immediate effects of cocaine use include dilated pupils and increased blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration rate followed by a crash when the drug wears off. Over the longer term, cocaine users often have nasal passage and nasal septum problems. Other stimulants such as methamphetamines can cause similar symptoms as cocaine and, over the long term, cause tooth decay, hallucinations, paranoia, heart problems, and stroke. There is a high rate of addiction among users.

Hallucinogens (LSD, mescaline, psilocybin)

Hallucinogens cause illusions and distortions of time and perception. The user may experience episodes of panic, confusion, suspicion, anxiety and loss of control. Flashbacks can occur even after use has stopped. PCP or phencyclidine has been shown to produce violent behaviors which can lead to injuries to the user or a bystander.

Heroin (other opioids)

Heroin causes the body to experience diminished pain. If injected, it can result in blood vessel damage (and possibly the transmission of infections such as hepatitis and HlV if needles are shared). There is a high rate of addiction among users.

Tobacco (cigarettes, chew, and other products)

Tobacco use has been proven not only to be addictive, but to have serious, well-documented health consequences. While many people, particularly students, look to smoking as a way of reducing stress, it should be remembered that there is no comparison between the stress of facing emphysema or lung cancer and the stress of preparing for midterms. There is a high rate of addiction among users.

Additional information about drug-related health risks can be found: National Institute on Drug Abuse