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Smoking, Alcohol & Other Substance Consumption: Effects On Health

Tobacco and alcohol use are very common in our society and are associated with significant morbidity and mortality.

Alcohol consumption has immediate effects that can increase risk for motor vehicle accidents, poor academic or work performance, violence, unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Acute alcohol intoxication can result in seizures, coma, and death. In recent years, alcohol use is on a decline in collegiate life. Those who choose to drink do so with high acuity. In other words, students who do drink report having behaviors that are risky and harmful.  Chronic abuse of alcohol can result in attention disorders, memory lapse, and blackouts. Persons aged 12 to 20 years drink almost 21% of all alcohol consumed in the United States. Over 90% of this alcohol is consumed in the form of binge drinking. (CDC Data 2016)

Some consequences of underage drinking include: higher risk for suicide and homicide; unintentional injuries; abuse of other drugs; changes in brain development that may have life-long effects; and disruption of normal growth and sexual development.

In 2015, about 15 of every 100 U.S. adults aged 18 years or older (15.1%) smoked cigarettes. Smoking has declined since 2005 when nearly 21 of every 100 adults (20.9%) smoked. (CDC Prevention 2016 report)

Despite significant progress since the first Surgeon General's report, issued 50 years ago, smoking remains the single largest cause of preventable disease and death in the United States.

  • Smoking rates among adults and teens are less than half what they were in 1964; however, 42 million American adults and about 3 million middle and high school students continue to smoke.
  • Nearly half a million Americans die prematurely as a result of smoking each year.
  • More than 16 million Americans suffer from a disease caused by smoking.
  • On average, compared to people who have never smoked, smokers suffer more health problems and disability due to their smoking and ultimately lose more than a decade of life.
  • The estimated economic costs attributable to smoking and exposure to tobacco smoke continue to increase and now approach $300 billion annually, with direct medical costs of at least $130 billion and productivity losses of more than $150 billion a year.

(2014 Surgeon General's Report: The Health Consequences of Smoking, highlights)

Another concern is the growing prescription drug use and abuse. Most people who take prescription medications take them responsibly; however, the non-medical use or abuse of prescription drugs remains a serious public health concern. Certain prescription drugs (central nervous system depressants and stimulants) when abused can alter the brain's activity and lead to dependency and substance abuse disorder.

Substance abuse disorder is a brain disease which affects human behavior. Once dependent, an individual's ability to make voluntary decisions is altered and leads to compulsive drug craving, seeking and use. The impact of dependency can be far reaching. Cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and lung disease can all be affected by drug abuse. Prescription drug misuse involves a myriad factors, including the power of dependency, misperceptions about drug abuse, and the difficulty in discussing the topic with healthcare providers.