Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs

Misusing alcohol, tobacco, and drugs such as opioids can have both immediate and long-term health effects.

The misuse and abuse of alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs, and prescription medications affect the health and well-being of millions of Americans.

  • Excessive alcohol use can increase a person’s risk of developing serious health problems in addition to those issues associated with intoxication behaviors and alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
  • Tobacco use and smoking do damage to nearly every organ in the human body, often leading to lung cancer, respiratory disorders, heart disease, stroke, and other illnesses.
  • Marijuana has not only immediate effects like distorted perception, difficulty problem solving, and loss of motor coordination, but also effects with long-term use such as respiratory infection, impaired memory, and exposure to cancer-causing compounds.
  • Opioids reduce the perception of pain but can also produce drowsiness, mental confusion, euphoria, nausea, constipation, and—depending upon the amount of drug taken—can depress respiration.

Opioid misuse represents a unique challenge. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Understanding the Epidemic, an average of 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. Opioids include prescription drugs such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, and codeine. While many people benefit from using these medications to manage pain, prescription drugs are frequently diverted for improper use.

As people use opioids repeatedly, their tolerance increases and they may not be able to maintain the source for the drugs. This can cause them to turn to the black market for these drugs and even switch from prescription drugs to cheaper and more risky substitutes like heroin. These substances vary in purity and strength, which increases the risk of serious medical complications or overdose.

SAMHSA has created the Opioid Overdose Prevention Toolkit to offer strategies to health care providers, communities, and local governments for developing practices and policies to help prevent opioid-related overdoses and deaths. Access reports for community members, prescribers, patients and families, and those recovering from opioid overdose.

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Last Updated: 01/30/2019