Information on Substances
This page highlights facts about commonly misused substances including the short and long term effects, withdrawal, and treatment.
Use in Pregnancy
Tobacco: Miscarriage, low birth weight, premature delivery, stillbirth, learning, and behavior problems.
Marijuana: Potential links with low birth weight and stillbirth. Problems with attention, memory, and problem solving throughout development. Problems with aggressive behavior and increased rates of depression.
Alcohol: Fetal alcohol syndromes, developmental delays, difficulty with attention and memory, learning disabilities, organ abnormalities.
Cocaine: Premature delivery, low birth weight, neonatal abstinence syndrome.
Heroin and Perscription Opioids: Miscarriage, low birth weight, neonatal abstinence syndrome.
Prescription Sedatives: Some benzodiazepines are considered safe after the first trimester of pregnancy. Barbiturates can cause bleeding and malformation in newborns. Sleep medications may be safe during pregnancy, but more research is needed.
Short term effects: Increased blood pressure, breathing, and heart rate
Long-term effects: Greatly increased risk of cancer, especially lung cancer when smoked and oral cancers when chewed; chronic bronchitis; emphysema; heart disease; leukemia; cataracts; pneumonia.
When combined with alcohol: Increased heart rate, blood pressure; further slowing of mental processing and reaction time.
Child exposure risks: Second and Third-Hand Smoke (Ear & respiratory problems, SIDS).
Short-term effects: Injuries, violent behavior, alcohol poisoning, death, risky sexual behavior.
Long-term effects: High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, digestive problems, breast cancer, mouth and throat cancer, liver cancer, colon cancer, learning and memory problems, depression, anxiety.
Withdrawal: Sweating, shakes, headache, nausea, insomnia, anxiety. Severe withdrawal can include delirium tremens (confusion, racing heart, high blood pressure, fever, sweating, hallucinations), seizures. Anyone with a history of severe withdrawal symptoms or heavy daily drinking should go through a medically supervised detoxification.
Short-term effects: Enhanced sensory perception and euphoria followed by drowsiness/relaxation; slowed reaction time; problems with balance and coordination; increased heart rate and appetite; problems with learning and memory; hallucinations; anxiety; panic attacks; psychosis.
Long-term effects: Mental health problems, chronic cough, frequent respiratory infections.
Withdrawal: Irritability, trouble sleeping, decreased appetite, anxiety.
In combination with alcohol: Increased heart rate, blood pressure; further slowing of mental processing and reaction time.
Considerations for youth: Possible loss of IQ points when repeated use begins in adolescence.
Short term effects: Enlarged pupils; increased body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure; headache; abdominal pain and nausea; euphoria; increased energy, alertness; insomnia, restlessness; anxiety; erratic and violent behavior, panic attacks, paranoia, psychosis; heart rhythm problems, heart attack; stroke, seizure, coma.
Long-term effects: Loss of sense of smell, nosebleeds, nasal damage and trouble swallowing from snorting; infection and death of bowel tissue from decreased blood flow; poor nutrition and weight loss from decreased appetite.
Withdrawal: Depression, tiredness, increased appetite, insomnia, vivid unpleasant dreams, slowed thinking and movement, restlessness.
In combination with alcohol: Greater risk of overdose and sudden death than from either drug alone.
Short-term effects: Euphoria; pain relief, warm flushing of skin; dry mouth; heavy feeling in the hands and feet; confusion; alternate wakeful and drowsy states; itching; nausea; vomiting; slowed breathing and heart rate, death (from overdose).
Long-term effects: Collapsed veins; abscesses (swollen tissue with pus); infection of the lining and valves in the heart; constipation and stomach cramps; liver or kidney disease; pneumonia.
Withdrawal: Restlessness, leg movements, flu-like symptoms including muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps ("cold turkey").
In combination with alcohol: Increased risk for overdose and coma.
Treatment: Maintenance medications – methadone, buprenorphine. Opioid blocker – naltrexone (short-acting and extended-release injection). Behavioral therapy treatment (inpatient and outpatient)
Short term effects: Rapid emotional swings; distortion of a person’s ability to recognize reality, think rationally, or communicate with others; raised blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature; dizziness and insomnia; loss of appetite; dry mouth; sweating; numbness; weakness; tremors; enlarged pupils; panic attacks; hallucinations.
Long term effects: Frightening flashbacks (called Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder [HPPD]); ongoing visual disturbances, disorganized thinking, paranoia, and mood swings.
Withdrawal: Unknown, more research is needed.
Short-term effects: Drowsiness, slurred speech, poor concentration, confusion, dizziness, problems with movement and memory, lowered blood pressure, slowed breathing. Sleep medications are sometimes used as date rape drugs.
Long-term effects: Risk of HIV, hepatitis, and other infectious diseases from shared needles. Otherwise, long-term effects are unknown.
Withdrawal: Must be discussed with a health care provider; withdrawal can cause a serious abstinence syndrome that can be severe including, nausea, vomiting, tremor, incoordination, restlessness, blurred vision, sweating, seizures, and delirium.
In combination with alcohol: Further slows the heart rate and breathing, which can lead to death.