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Substance Abuse

College is a time for having adventures with friends. Alcohol and drugs may sometimes be involved. It is always important to be aware of the many risks and consequences associated with intoxicating substances.


The CDC defines heavy drinking as more than 15 drinks per week for men, and more than eight drinks per week for women. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as consuming enough alcohol to raise your blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 or above. For women, this is about four or more drinks, and for men, this is about five or more drinks in about two hours.

  • Legality — Underage drinking is very common on and off college campuses. It is illegal to drink under the age of 21. Being arrested will have consequences throughout your life.

  • Safety — Drinking heavily can have serious consequences. About 1,400-1,800 college students die from alcohol-related injuries and almost 600,000 are injured every year. These injuries include falls, motor vehicle accidents and more. Students who are frequent heavy drinkers are more than 11 times more likely to sustain an alcohol-related injury than non-heavy drinkers. Drink in moderation and stay safe.

    • Drunk Driving — About 40 percent of all fatal accidents involve a drunk driver. One in 5 college age students admit to driving drunk at least once in the previous year. Even if you’re lucky enough to avoid being involved in an accident, the legal consequences are very serious. In Michigan the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) level is 0.08 for drivers over the age of 21. If you are under 21, the legal limit is 0.02. You can be arrested with a BAC less than 0.08 if you are visibly impaired. Even if it is your first offense, you can pay up to $500, spend 93 days in jail, be assigned 360 hours of community service, lose your license for six months, and have six points added to your license. Drunk driving is not worth the risk. Designate a driver or have a plan to get home. Call a cab 313-831-2464 or Uber 877-223-8023.
  • Academic Impairment — Heavy drinking can also cause academic impairment related to missed classes and decreased study time.

  • Mental Health — Consuming large amounts of alcohol has also been linked to increased rates of depression and suicide in college students. New research is also emerging about a relationship between alcohol consumption and disordered eating patterns that increases the risk of an eating disorder.

  • Sexual Health — Heavy drinking is also strongly associated with unplanned sexual activity. Heavy drinkers are more than five times more likely to engage in unplanned sexual activity. This risky behavior can lead to sexually transmitted infection and pregnancy.

  • Physical Health — Most college students are healthy and may not experience immediate health consequences from heavy drinking with the exception of the headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration associated with a hangover. However, heavy drinking can lower your immune system and make you more vulnerable to infections like the common cold and the flu. Unhealthy drinking patterns that develop in college can progress to long term alcoholism, which can cause cirrhosis of the liver and even death.


The use of illegal drugs and the nonmedical abuse of certain prescription drugs can have serious health consequences. Using these drugs can get you arrested and cause serious social and financial problems throughout your life. These drugs are not worth the risk.

  • Cocaine — Cocaine is a very addictive stimulant with serious short- and long-term health consequences. Using cocaine can cause health emergencies such as heart rhythm problems, heart attack, stroke, seizure, violent behavior and panic attacks. Other serious effects include insomnia, anxiety, headache, abdominal pain, increased heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. Long-term effects include infection and death of bowel tissue and poor nutrition. Also, because cocaine is typically snorted, it can lead to the loss of your sense of smell, frequent nosebleeds and difficulty swallowing.

  • Heroin — Heroin is an illegal opioid medication that does not have any medical purpose. Overdose leads to impaired breathing and can be deadly. Because heroin is typically injected into a vein, serious problems such as collapsed veins and infection that can travel to the heart and cause congestive heart failure may occur. Chronic use can also cause kidney and liver disease.

  • Marijuana — Marijuana itself is not as dangerous as other illegal drugs, but can cause slowed reaction times and problems with coordination that can lead to injury, especially motor vehicle related accidents. It can also cause anxiety and severe panic attacks. Frequent marijuana use has been linked to long-term health consequences such as mental health and memory problems as well as chronic cough and increased respiratory infections.

  • Methamphetamine — Methamphetamine is an illegal stimulant medication that does not have any medical uses. It can cause dangerous increases in your body temperature, breathing, blood pressure and heart rate. The over stimulation of the heart can cause dangerous heart irregularities. Long-term use can cause serious mental health problems such as anxiety, mood disorders, paranoia, hallucinations, delusions and insomnia. It can also cause major dental decay (“meth mouth”) and can cause intense itching that leads to skin sores and infection from scratching.

  • Molly/Ecstasy — Molly and Ecstasy are psychoactive drugs that share some similarities with stimulants. Short-term side effects include muscle tension, teeth clenching, blurred vision, depression, anxiety and increased heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature that can lead to liver, kidney, heart failure and death. Long-term use can cause neurologic deficits like poor attention, long-lasting confusion, impulsiveness and aggression.

  • Prescription Opioids — Fortunately the nonmedical use of prescription opioids (i.e. Norco, Oxycodone) has decreased significantly from 2003 to 2013. Even though these drugs are used for treatment of certain medical conditions, they are still dangerous. More unintentional drug overdose deaths have involved prescription opioids than cocaine and heroin combined. Immediate side effects include slowed and impaired breathing, confusion and death. These medications are highly addictive and should only be used as prescribed by a health care provider.

  • Prescription Sedatives — Common prescription sedatives include Xanax, Valium and Ativan. These medications are used to treat serious anxiety disorders and can be very addictive when abused. Immediate side effects of these drugs include problems with movement, memory and concentration. They can cause a significant drop in blood pressure and slow breathing that, especially if combined with alcohol, can lead to death.

  • Prescription Stimulants — The nonmedical use of prescription stimulants (i.e. Adderall, Ritalin) among college students increased significantly from 2003 to 2013. Students frequently use these medications to improve academic performance, but there is no evidence to support improved performance unless the student is taking the medication as prescribed for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). These drugs can have serious health emergencies such as dangerously high body temperature, seizure and heart rhythm irregularities. They can also have consequences such as depression, dependence, sleep disturbances, irritability and headaches. Long-term abuse can lead to heart problems and psychosis. Only use these medications as prescribed to you by a health care provider.

Smoking, Nicotine, and Tobacco

Regardless of how nicotine is consumed, it is highly addictive and has negative health effects. Most people that become nicotine dependent become addicted before age 24. College is when lifelong habits can form so make the choice to avoid these products.

  • Cigarettes — Almost one in five people ages 18 to 24 smoke cigarettes. While the smoking rates of other age groups have declined over the past decade, the smoking rate of college students is stagnant or slightly increased in some estimates. Most students usually smoke in social settings and while drinking alcohol. The health consequences of smoking cigarettes are well documented and even occasional use puts students at risk for cigarette addiction. Smoking has negative impacts on every part of the body and include:

    • Increased risk for certain cancers, including cancers of the upper airway, esophagus, lung, stomach, blood, liver, pancreas, kidney, cervix, bladder and colon.
    • Increased risk of chronic health problems including stroke, blindness, dental disease, aortic aneurysm, coronary and peripheral artery disease, frequent pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, diabetes, infertility, osteoporosis, erectile dysfunction, rheumatoid arthritis and immune dysfunction.
  • Vaporizers and E-cigarettes — E-cigarette and vaporizer use is on the rise among college students. These are battery-powered devices that turn a liquid mixture into a vapor or aerosol that is inhaled instead of smoke. The liquid contains a variety of chemicals including flavor and nicotine and can vary considerably between brands. Many people falsely think that these are a consequence-free alternative for cigarettes. This method of nicotine consumption is new and not yet regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so the health consequences are not fully understood. The level of nicotine in different products varies dramatically and has been found to be inconsistent without FDA oversight. Even without some of the negative effects of smoke inhalation, the health consequences of nicotine are still present. Nicotine is highly addictive and its use can cause blood vessels to constrict and increased heart rate and blood pressure. It can also affect cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease. It can even cause insulin resistance and increase the risk of diabetes. While these devices may have potential benefits for cigarette smoking cessation, they should not be used habitually.

  • Smokeless Tobacco — While rates of cigarette use have remained consistent, the use of smokeless tobacco products (i.e. chewing tobacco, snuff, and dissolvable oral tobacco) has increased and it is estimated that about 12.7 percent of college males use smokeless tobacco (men are 14 times more likely to use smokeless tobacco than women). Like vaporizers and e-cigarettes, these forms of nicotine consumption do not have the consequences of smoke inhalation, but do still have other health consequences. Nicotine has serious health effects on its own (see above) and smokeless tobacco is linked to increased risk of certain cancers, gum disease and tooth decay.
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