Nicotine is an addictive stimulant found in cigarettes and other forms of
tobacco. Tobacco smoke increases a user's risk of cancer, emphysema, bronchial
disorders, and cardiovascular disease. The mortality rate associated with
tobacco addiction is staggering.
Tobacco use killed approximately 100 million people during the 20th century and,
if current smoking trends continue, the cumulative death toll for this century
has been projected to reach 1 billion.24
Alcohol consumption can damage the brain and most body organs. Areas of the
brain that are especially vulnerable to alcohol-related damage are the cerebral
cortex (largely responsible for our higher brain functions, including problem
solving and decision making), the hippocampus (important for memory and
learning), and the cerebellum (important for movement coordination).
Marijuana is the most commonly abused illicit substance. This drug impairs
short-term memory and learning, the ability to focus attention, and
coordination. It also increases heart rate, can harm the lungs, and can cause
psychosis in those at risk.
Inhalants are volatile substances found in many household products, such as oven
cleaners, gasoline, spray paints, and other aerosols, that induce mind-altering
effects. Inhalants are extremely toxic and can damage the heart, kidneys, lungs,
and brain. Even a healthy person can suffer heart failure and death within
minutes of a single session of prolonged sniffing of an inhalant.
Cocaine is a short-acting stimulant, which can lead abusers to "binge" (to take
the drug many times in a single session). Cocaine abuse can lead to severe
medical consequences related to the heart, and the respiratory, nervous, and
Nearly 1 in 10 high school seniors report non-medical use of the prescription
pain reliever Vicodin.
Amphetamines, including methamphetamine, are powerful stimulants that can
produce feelings of euphoria and alertness. Methamphetamine's effects are
particularly long lasting and harmful to the brain. Amphetamines can cause high
body temperature and can lead to serious heart problems and seizures.
Ecstasy (MDMA) produces both stimulant and mind-altering effects. It can
increase body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and heart wall stress.
Ecstasy may also be toxic to nerve cells.
LSD is one of the most potent hallucinogenic, or perception-altering, drugs. Its
effects are unpredictable, and abusers may see vivid colors and images, hear
sounds, and feel sensations that seem real but do not exist.
Abusers also may have traumatic experiences and emotions that can last for many
hours. Some short-term effects can include increased body temperature, heart
rate, and blood pressure; sweating; loss of appetite; sleeplessness; dry mouth;
Heroin is a powerful opiate drug that produces euphoria and feelings of
relaxation. It slows respiration and can increase risk of serious infectious
diseases, especially when taken intravenously. Other opioid drugs include
morphine, OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percodan, which have legitimate medical uses;
however, their non-medical use or abuse can result in the same harmful
consequences as abusing heroin.
Prescription medications are increasingly being abused or used for non-medical
purposes. This practice cannot only be addictive, but in some cases also lethal.
Commonly abused classes of prescription drugs include painkillers, sedatives,
and stimulants. Among the most disturbing aspects of this emerging trend is its
prevalence among teenagers and young adults, and the common misperception that
because these medications are prescribed by physicians, they are safe even when
Steroids, which can also be prescribed for certain medical conditions, are
abused to increase muscle mass and to improve athletic performance or physical
appearance. Serious consequences of abuse can include severe acne, heart
disease, liver problems, stroke, infectious diseases, depression, and suicide.
Drug combinations. A particularly dangerous and not uncommon practice is the
combining of two or more drugs. The practice ranges from the co-administration
of legal drugs, like alcohol and nicotine, to the dangerous random mixing of
prescription drugs, to the deadly combination of heroin or cocaine with fentanyl
(an opioid pain medication). Whatever the context, it is critical to realize
that because of drug-drug interactions, such practices often pose significantly
higher risks than the already harmful individual drugs.