The use of drugs and alcohol has both physical and psychological repercussions. Such substances can interfere with memory, sensation and perception, and impair the brain’s ability to synthesize information. Regular users develop tolerance and physical dependence. The psychological dependence occurs when the substance becomes central to the user’s life and decision making.
Alcohol consumption may cause a number of marked changes in behavior. Even low doses may significantly impair the judgment and coordination required to drive a car safely. Low to moderate doses of alcohol may increase the incidence of a variety of aggressive acts, including physical attacks. Moderate to high doses of alcohol may cause marked impairments in higher mental functions, severely altering a person’s ability to learn and remember information. Very high doses may cause respiratory depression and death. If combined with other depressants of the central nervous system, much lower doses of alcohol may produce the effects just described.
Repeated use of drugs and alcohol can lead to dependence. Sudden cessation of substance intake can produce withdrawal symptoms, including severe anxiety, tremors, hallucinations and convulsions. Substance withdrawal can be life-threatening. Long-term consumption of substances, particularly when combined with poor nutrition, can also lead to permanent damage to vital organs, such as the brain and liver.
Women who use controlled substances during pregnancy may give birth to infants with fetal alcohol or drug syndrome. These infants have irreversible physical abnormalities and mental retardation. In addition, research indicates that children of alcoholic parents are at greater risk than other youngsters of becoming alcoholics. A chart of the effects of use of certain controlled substances is found on the Charts page of this document. More information is available at www.usdoj.gov/dea/concern/concern.htm.
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