HEALTH & WELLNESS: DRUGS & MEDICATION
The use of drugs (including alcohol and prescription medication) can have significant impacts on our lives. Sometimes helpful, sometimes harmful, drugs definitely have a presence in college life. Although alcohol is a commonly used drug among college students, we have dedicated a separate page to alcohol information. For resources for recovery and sobriety, view our recovery services.
Sometimes, a combination of the media's portrayals of college life and the individuals we surround ourselves with can influence our perception of college drug use. In reality, the data on college drug use is typically much lower than we perceive it to be; however, these numbers are not negligible.
What is it?
Caffeine is a stimulant that is found naturally in many plants, although synthetic caffeine can be found in some medications and energy drinks. It’s one of the most popular drugs in the world, consumed by many on a daily basis.
Short Term Effects
Because caffeine stimulates your central nervous system, it may cause you to experience increased:
- Blood pressure
- Breathing rate
- Heart rate
- Acid reflux/heartburn
Long Term Effects
Drinking excess amounts of caffeine can lead to:
- Muscle tremors
- Excessive sweating
Certain individuals might want to consider limiting caffeine consumption, including those who have anxiety, GERD or ulcers, migraines or other chronic headaches, sleep disorders, high blood pressure, fast or irregular heart rhythms, or are pregnant/breastfeeding or taking certain medications/supplements. Talk with a healthcare provider about whether you should limit caffeine. Many people also might want to decide to cut back due to personal or financial reasons.
Regular coffee drinkers will probably experience withdrawal symptoms if they quit “cold turkey.” If you want to cut back your caffeine intake, it’s best to do so gradually.
- Keep track of how much you consume—it might be more than you think
- Drink “half-caf” coffee or combine equal parts of caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee
- Get more sleep, and take a nap if tired
- Exercise for an energy burst!
Symptoms of caffeine withdrawal may include headaches, irritability, nervousness, nausea, constipation, difficulty
concentrating, and muscle tension. These symptoms are temporary and will subside within a week or so.
What is it?
Cannabis is a type of plant that has long been used for hemp fiber and oils as well as its medicinal and recreational drug properties. The main active ingredient is THC, which is responsible for the mind-altering effects. Many forms of cannabis currently exist, and each carry a different potency of THC. CBD (cannabidiol) is another substance found in cannabis with little, if any, intoxicating properties. CBD is often associated with medical uses, such as relieving insomnia, anxiety, spasticity, epilepsy, and pain. However, cannabis is currently a Schedule I drug, which means it is considered to have a high potential for abuse and no medical benefit. Many activist groups are working to change this classification.
Short Term Effects
- Potentially include:
- Altered sensory perception
- Increased heart rate and appetite
- Dilated pupils
- Memory impairment
- Red eyes and swollen eyelids
- Loss of coordination, slower reaction time
- Impaired judgment
- Loss of inhibitions
- Difficulty thinking and problem solving
- Dryness of the eyes, mouth and throat
- Increased appetite/decreased nausea
- Anxiety and paranoia
Long Term Effects
- Increased risk of respiratory infections/diseases associated with smoking, including cancer
- Decreased memory and learning abilities
- Decreased motivation in areas such as study, work or concentration
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Fertility issues
- Impaired immune system
While there is often conflicting evidence regarding cannabis’s addictive nature, cannabis use has the potential to become a compulsive habit that may interfere with family, school, work, and recreational activities. Signs of physical/psychological dependence include:
- A growing interest to smoke more often
- The use of cannabis, or thoughts of using, replaces other things that used to interest the person, including but not limited to hobbies, sports, working out, class work, clubs or organizations, friends
- Less interest in doing activities sober, or not high
- Increase in tolerance, needing more cannabis than before to feel the effects
- Putting self in danger (legal or physical) or dangerous situations to smoke
Dependence may lead to withdrawal symptoms after quitting or cutting back on cannabis, including irritability, restlessness or trouble sleeping, fatigue, depressed mood, anger/aggression, strange dreams, appetite change, nausea or stomach pain, weight loss, shakiness, or sweating.
Over the Counter Medication
Over-the-counter (OTC) medicine is sold directly to individuals without a prescription and treat a variety of ailments. OTC drugs typically have a lower risk of abuse than prescription medicine. Misuse of an OTC medicine means: taking medicine in a way or dose other than directed on the package, taking medicine for a non-medical effect (to get high), or mixing OTC medicines together to create new products. Commonly misused OTC drugs include cough medicines, cold medicines, motion sickness pills, pain relievers, laxatives, caffeine pills, and diet pills.
Prescription drug misuse is the intentional or unintentional use of medication without a prescription, in a way
other than prescribed, or for the experience or feeling it causes (even if for a legitimate medical complaint such as pain). A combination of increased availability and misconceptions about prescription drug safety have contributed to this issue. In turn, prescription drug misuse has led to increased emergency room visits, prescription drug overdose deaths, and treatment admissions for prescription drug use disorders, including addiction. The most commonly abused classes of prescription drugs are opioids, central nervous system (CNS) depressants, and stimulants.
Opioids have been used for centuries to treat pain, cough, and diarrhea. Chemically, these medications are very similar to heroin, leading to an increased risk of addiction and overdose even in patients who take their medication as prescribed. Opioids can also produce drowsiness, mental confusion, nausea, constipation, and respiratory depression. Even a single large dose of an opioid can cause severe respiratory depression (slowing or stopping of breathing), which can be fatal; taking opioids with alcohol or sedatives increases this risk. Examples of opioids include codeine, hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin and Percocet), and morphine.
CNS depressants are substances that can slow brain activity. Continued use can lead to dependence and withdrawal when use is abruptly reduced or stopped. Someone who is thinking about discontinuing a sedative or who is suffering withdrawal from CNS depressants should speak with a physician or seek immediate medical treatment. Concurrent use of alcohol or other depressants with Valium or Xanax can be life-threatening. Examples of CNS depressants include barbiturates and benzodiazepines (Valium and Xanax).
Stimulants increase alertness, attention, and energy, as well as elevate blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration. Historically, stimulants were used to treat asthma and other respiratory problems, obesity, neurological disorders, and a variety of other ailments. But as their potential for misuse and addiction became apparent, the number of conditions treated with stimulants has decreased. Withdrawal symptoms associated with discontinuing stimulant use include fatigue, depression, and disturbed sleep patterns. Some people take these drugs in the absence of medical need in an effort to enhance mental performance. Nonmedical use of stimulants for cognitive enhancement poses potential health risks, including addiction, cardiovascular events, and psychosis. Examples of stimulants include dextroamphetamine (Adderall) and methylphenidate (Ritalin and Concerta).
- Always start by reading the label – all of it.
- When looking for an OTC medicine, choose one that will treat only the symptoms you have.
- Know what to avoid while taking any medicine.
- When in doubt, ask a pharmacist or doctor before you buy or use a medication.
- Take the medicine EXACTLY as stated on the label.
- Use extra caution when taking more than one OTC drug product at a time.
- Don’t combine prescription medicines and OTC drugs without talking to a healthcare professional first.
- Keep a list of all the OTC medicines, prescription drugs, dietary supplements and herbal remedies you take.
- Don’t use medicines after their expiration date.
Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tobacco causes more deaths each year than deaths from HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol, car crashes, suicide, and murders combined. Even an occasional cigarette while drinking or going out with friends causes damage to your lungs, blood vessels, and cells throughout your body. The good news is that tobacco users have many options when it comes to quitting. All forms of tobacco cause cancer and contain nicotine, which is a highly addictive stimulant. Once nicotine is taken into the body, blood sugar rises slightly, giving you increased energy that will soon subside and leave you fatigued and perhaps depressed, fueling the craving for more nicotine. As a vasoconstrictor, nicotine tightens blood vessels and restricts blood flow, causing permanent damage to arteries in the long run. It takes only seconds for nicotine to reach the brain, but its effects can last for an entire day. Unfortunately, corticosterone, the stress hormone, reduces nicotine’s effectiveness. This means that if you’re stressed, you will need more nicotine to feel an impact. As you can imagine, the more you use, the higher your tolerance for nicotine, and the more dependent you become on the drug. When forced to go for a long period without using tobacco, you will probably feel irritated and more aggressive. In addition, whether you notice or not, your cognitive functioning will most likely be impaired.
Getting Ready to Quit
- Know why you are quitting. List the benefits that this change will bring you. Post the list to remind yourself.
- Tell friends who will be supportive. Let them know how to help.
- Know your smoking patterns and make changes as needed.
- Recruit a friend to quit at the same time.
- Get rid of any tobacco products in your room or apartment.
- Plan regular exercise.
- Have low calorie snacks available.
- Collect the money you save and treat yourself to something.
What happens if I slip up?
Forgive yourself. For many people, it takes about 5 to 7 attempts to quit for good, so don’t give up. Think about the following questions to help you proceed: Were you prepared to quit? What happened? In what situation did you begin to use tobacco again? What people were with you? What could you have done to avoid it? How can you deal
with stress without tobacco?
What is it?
Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant. Cocaine increases levels of dopamine in brain circuits controlling pleasure and movement. This flood of dopamine ultimately disrupts normal brain communication and causes cocaine's high. The build-up of dopamine causes the euphoric effects commonly reported by cocaine users, including hyperstimulation, reduced fatigue, and mental clarity. Dealers "cut" cocaine with many products; some of which, such as caffeine or Sudafed, mimic the effects of cocaine. The duration of effects of cocaine depends on the delivery method and purity of the dose. As a result, individuals may take cocaine more frequently and in larger amounts which results in high potential for overdose and addiction.
Cocaine and Alcohol
Because of the stimulant effects of cocaine, users drink more than they are accustomed to without feeling the depressant effects of alcohol. Cocaine, however, wears off much more rapidly, leaving the individual more intoxicated than they thought they were, contributing to a heightened chance of experiencing alcohol’s negative consequences. Alcohol and cocaine also combine in the liver to create a third substance, cocaethylene, which increases the strain on the heart and the risk of sudden death.
Short Term Effects
- Extreme happiness and energy
- Mental alertness
- Hypersensitivity to sight, sound, and touch
- Irritability and paranoia
- Sense of power and confidence
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Constricted blood vessels
- Increased temperature
- Dilated pupils
- Decreased appetite
- Restlessness and insomnia
- Sudden death—even one use can cause overdose
- Depression—when coming down from a cocaine high
Long Term Effects
- Cardiovascular problems, including irregular heartbeat, heart attack, and heart failure
- Sleeplessness or sexual dysfunction
- Diminished sense of smell or perforated nasal septum
- Nausea and headaches
- Neurological incidents, including strokes, seizures, fungal brain infections, and hemorrhaging in tissue surrounding the brain
- Pulmonary effects, such as fluid in the lungs, aggravation of asthma and other lung disorders, and respiratory failure
- Psychiatric complications, including psychosis, paranoia, depression, anxiety disorders, and delusions
- Increased risk of traumatic injury from accidents and aggressive, violent, or criminal behavior
- For intravenous (IV) cocaine users, there is increased risk of hepatitis, HIV infection, and endocarditis.
- For users already infected with HIV or hepatitis, cocaine use lowers immune function, allowing the infection to progress more rapidly.
What is it?
Ecstasy is the popular name for the chemical drug MDMA. Ecstasy is usually cut with another substance to decrease potency. Molly is another MDMA-based drug that produces the same high as Ecstasy, but is thought to be a more pure version, although it is usually a mystery just how much MDMA is in Molly or Ecstasy. Both drugs produce a high by generating a rush of serotonin and small amounts of dopamine, both of which regulate mood. Serotonin is the chemical that many antidepressants regulate— making users feel emotionally relaxed and physically exhilarated.
Short Term Effects
Ecstasy’s effects last about 3-6 hours, although many users take a second dose as the effects of the first begin to wear off.
- Day-after depression
Long Term Effects
- Long-lasting confusion
- Impairment of working memory and attention processes
Ecstasy and the Brain
Because Ecstasy works by releasing mass amounts of serotonin and other “feel good chemicals” to produce its euphoric effect, the days following a trip can feel quite opposite. The fast deployment of serotonin depletes normal serotonin levels and produces depression or malaise after the drug wears off.
Is Ecstasy Addictive?
Regular users of the drug will have a harder time reaching their initial high the longer they use. They will require larger and larger quantities of the drug to produce a smaller effect each time. Serotonin supply is finite, so repeating doses cannot provide a stronger or lengthened high after all the serotonin is gone. So while Ecstasy is not typically considered addictive, users may turn to other drugs to produce the desired high they aren't getting from Ecstasy anymore. This increases the risk for heart attack, stroke, and even death.