Substance Abuse

In today’s world it is easy to obtain a variety of drugs or other substances, both legal and illegal, that threaten to do serious harm to your health and well-being. For college students the substances that are most commonly used and abused are tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana. While smoking tobacco is not illegal, smoking marijuana is against federal law and state laws in every state except Washington and Colorado. But throughout the history of higher education the drug most used by students has been alcohol.

In this section our purpose is not to make judgments, but rather to warn you about irresponsible use of substances that can have a major negative effect on your college experience and your life. We hope that this information will help you think twice and avoid the trouble that can come from all forms of substance abuse.

Making Decisions About Alcohol

Even if you don’t drink alcohol, you should read this information. In one study, more than 50 percent of college students reported helping a drunken friend, classmate, or study partner in the previous year.

A number of surveys have confirmed that your peers aren’t drinking as much as you think they are, so there’s no need for you to try to “catch up.” Most students’ estimates of how much the average college student drinks are twice as high as the actual statistics.

How alcohol affects behavior depends on the dose of alcohol, which is best measured by blood alcohol content, or BAC. Most of the pleasurable effects of alcoholic beverages are experienced at lower BAC levels, when alcohol acts as a behavioral stimulant.

How quickly you drink makes a difference, too. Your body gets rid of alcohol at a rate of about one drink an hour. Drinking more than one drink an hour might cause a rise in BAC because the body is absorbing alcohol faster than it can eliminate it.

At BAC levels of 0.025 to 0.05, a drinker tends to feel animated and energized. At a BAC level of around 0.05, a drinker can feel rowdy or boisterous. This level is where most people report feeling a buzz from alcohol. At a BAC level between 0.05 and 0.08, alcohol starts to act as a depressant. So, as soon as you feel that buzz, remember that you are on the brink of losing coordination, clear thinking, and judgment. Driving is measurably impaired at BAC levels lower than the legal limit of 0.08. In fact, an accurate safe level for most people might be half the legal limit (0.04). As BAC levels climb past 0.08, you will become progressively less coordinated and less able to make good decisions. Most people become severely uncoordinated with BAC levels higher than 0.08 and might begin falling asleep, falling down, or slurring their speech.

Most people pass out or fall asleep when the BAC is above 0.25. Unfortunately, even after you pass out and stop drinking, your BAC can continue to rise as alcohol in your stomach is released to the intestine and absorbed into the bloodstream. Worse yet, at BAC levels higher than 0.30, most people will show signs of severe alcohol poisoning.

There are many home remedies (e.g. coffee, water, or cold showers) for helping sober someone up, but time is the only remedy because your liver can metabolize only 1 ounce of alcohol per hour.

Tobacco: The Other Legal Drug

Tobacco use is clearly the cause of many serious medical conditions, including heart disease, some forms of cancer, and lung ailments. Over the years tobacco has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of individuals. The University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future Survey published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that rates of smoking among young people continue to decline.3 One concern about college students and smoking is “social smoking,” however. This term describes smoking by students who do so only when hanging out with friends, drinking, or partying. Most college students think that they will be able to give up their social smoking habit once they graduate, but after four years of college, some find that they are addicted to cigarettes.

Although a small percentage of college students use smokeless tobacco, one “dip” delivers the same amount of nicotine as three to four cigarettes. Smokeless tobacco contains twenty-eight known cancer-causing substances and is associated with the same level of health risk as cigarette smoking.

Although smoking is more prevalent among men than among women, according to the American Lung Association, the differences are narrowing, and the rates of smoking-related cancers in women are rapidly approaching or surpassing rates in men.4 One explanation as to why women smoke is the enormous amount of pressure on young women to stay thin. Although there is some evidence that smoking increases metabolism and suppresses the appetite, the problem of being 2 or 3 pounds heavier cannot begin to compare with the dangers of smoking. It has been noted that, on average, female smokers are at risk of having a heart attack nineteen years before nonsmoking females do.

Chemicals in tobacco are highly addictive, making it hard to quit. Although young people might not worry about long-term side effects, increased numbers of respiratory infections, worsening of asthma, bad breath, stained teeth, and the huge expense should be motivations not to start smoking at all. Cigarette smoking and the use of hormonal birth control can be a deadly combination. A study conducted at Boston University’s School of Medicine showed that women who smoke and use hormonal birth control are nearly ten times more likely to have a heart attack than are women who don’t smoke and don’t use hormonal methods of birth control. A final reason for smokers to quit is the cost.

Many institutions and local hospitals offer smoking cessation programs to help individuals who are addicted to nicotine quit smoking. Contact your campus health center for more information about taking this step toward quitting.