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Alcohol

Alcohol

How might alcohol affect me?

The effects of  alcohol on the body vary  by individual, and amount consumed.

Alcohol is a depressant: It slows brain activity and causes impairment to judgment, memory, vision, speech, and gross motor skills. These impairments can vary, based on how many drinks are consumed on a given occasion, as well as the frequency of consumption.1 The effects of excessive alcohol use can have both short- and long-term implications.

Short-term considerations

Cognitive

When high levels of alcohol are consumed people can experience memory loss around events, or whole parts of an evening. These are called “blackouts.” Blackouts occur when there is “a disruption of activity in the hippocampus, a brain region that plays a central role in the formation of new autobiographical memories.” 2 This means that your brain is unable to convert short-term memories to long-term ones. This is different from passing out, since the person who is blacking out may still be awake and functioning, they will just have no recall of events. Alcohol-induced blackouts are dangerous as the intoxicated person is more likely to experience negative consequences that could potentially be life-threatening.

Physical

When someone’s Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)—or the amount of alcohol in their system—reaches dangerous levels, alcohol poisoning can occur.  Likely physical effects can include; vomiting, shallow breathing, slow irregular heartbeat, and limited control over body movements, which can lead physical injury.

Alcohol Myopia

Similar to visual myopia, perception and emotions of someone under the influence of alcohol are restricted to obvious and immediate cues in the environment. Sometimes, students wonder why they make certain decisions after drinking that they wouldn’t make if they were sober. Alcohol myopia may help explain this phenomenon of acting “in-the-moment” rather than weighing consequences or thinking through decisions/actions.

Sleep related

Alcohol reduces REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. REM sleep allows people to feel rested and alert after waking up.  REM sleep also facilitates the development of long-term memory and muscle rebuilding and repair. While some find that alcohol helps with falling asleep, it actually prevents individuals from getting the necessary rest and deep sleep the body needs. These effects can last for several days and create disruption in the body’s natural sleep rhythm.

What is a “standard drink?”

The body can typically process one standard alcoholic drink per hour.
If you make the decision to drink, know what you’re consuming.

The following image provides some guidance around common drinks and their alcohol content:

standard-drinks
One container does not necessarily translate to “one standard drink.”

“Green Zone” Drinking

At low levels, alcohol can produce a feeling of relaxation and what some describe as a ‘good buzz.’ As amounts increase, the depressant effects of alcohol become pronounced. These effects can include: loss of coordination and motor control, memory loss, impaired judgment, blackouts, vomiting, alcohol poisoning.

Higher blood alcohol content (BAC) = higher risk of unintended consequences.

These consequences can include: feeling embarrassed by something that was said or done, decisions about having sex and/or not using protection, hangovers, fights/assaults, missing class or work, memory loss, and getting into trouble.

To calculate your BAC, click here.

Tolerance and Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)

Having a high tolerance to alcohol—an increased ability to “handle your liquor” can seem like a good thing on the one hand. On the other, it’s a misconception that people with a high tolerance get less intoxicated. In fact, Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) rises purely as a function of gender, weight, and how much alcohol you consume over what period of time.

“High tolerance” means that a body has become less sensitive to the effects of alcohol, and requires increased amounts of alcohol to produce the same effect.

This can pose two major risks:

  • A person might continue to drink because they don’t feel as impaired. As a result, their BAC could reach dangerous levels without them being aware of it.
  • Our bodies weren’t designed to sustain high doses of alcohol. So having a high tolerance poses an increased risk of running into more serious long-term problems, such as forming an addiction to alcohol.

 The best way to decrease tolerance is to take a break from alcohol for several weeks to a few months.

Signs of alcohol poisoning

  • Inability to answer basic questions such as; Name? Date? Location?
  • Inability to remain conscious
  • Inability to control their own body
  • Inability to get around on their own (Need to be carried or helped up by others.)
  • Vomiting

Do not leave a person alone to ‘pass out’ or ‘sleep it off’ as their BAC can continue to rise and they can become increasingly intoxicated even while passed out.

If you suspect alcohol poisoning or aren’t sure: CALL FOR HELP!

On campus, call 617.373.3333

Off campus, call 911

Making deliberate decisions is key to reducing your risk.

The safest option is to avoid alcohol altogether, however if you do make the decision to drink, there are some ways to reduce your risk:

  • Keep track of the number of standard drinks you have. Set a drink limit before starting and try to stick to it.
  • Eating before or while drinking will help slow down the rate of intoxication. It can also help reduce the effects of a hangover.
  • When you’re out, stay with friends and look out for one another. Set a predetermined meeting place in case you get separated.
  • Take a break between drinks. Alternate alcoholic with non-alcoholic beverages.
  • Mixing alcohol and drugs of any kind will likely intensify the side effects of both and can be fatal.

For more information and list of references, check out our Alcohol brochure.

Alcohol and Sex

Alcohol and Sex

How can alcohol affect your actions?

What decisions will you make for yourself around drinking and sex?  What precautions should you take to ensure your health and safety? What are the potential long-term implications of combining alcohol and decisions around sex for you and your partner? This information is intended to help N.U. students get at some of the facts around the combination of alcohol and sex in order to make informed decisions.

Alcohol does not make sex more enjoyable.

Alcohol actually numbs the nerve endings of both male and female genitalia.  It also decreases female lubrication which can lead to painful sex.

Drinking does not enhance sexual experience.

Alcohol can increase one’s expectations for the sexual experience, yet decrease desire, arousal, and satisfaction in both genders.

How does alcohol affect decision-making?

Alcohol is a depressant. It slows brain activity and causes impairment to judgment, memory, vision, speech, and gross motor skills. These impairments can depend on how many drinks are consumed on a given occasion, as well as the frequency of consumption. Alcohol and drug use can inhibit clear thinking and decision-making skills, leading to unintended sexual activity or decision not to use protection.

Making clearly informed choices.

In various ways, people behave differently under the influence of alcohol.  Whether that means we don’t “act like ourselves” or we compromise our decision-making ability, it’s a scientific fact that we are all affected, Beginning at a .06, Blood Alcohol Content (BAC), judgment becomes impaired. A higher BAC will result in more cognitive and physical impairment.

Heavier drinking episodes are defined as drinking to intoxication; this typically correlates with five or more standard drinks (for men) and four or more standard drinks for women.

Unplanned sexual activity

People who frequently engage in heavy drinking episodes are 34% more likely to participate in unplanned sexual activity than those who do not engage in heavy drinking episodes.

Alcohol and Sexual Assault

Consent is an agreement reached by both partners to engage in a specific activity.

Engaging in sexual activity without consent is an act of sexual violence and is illegal.

Under Massachusetts law, consent cannot be given by an intoxicated person.

For more information and the reference list, please check out our Alcohol and Sex brochure.

Marijuana

Marijuana: Be Informed

You have the right to make your own decisions. Our goal is to ensure you have the most accurate and reliable information possible to make the best decisions possible for yourself.

Basic chemistry.

Marijuana’s main psychoactive chemical is delta-9-tetrahydro-cannabinol, commonly known as THC. Due to the variety of strains, potency, and the effects it can produce, marijuana can be categorized as a depressant, a hallucinogen, or a stimulant, making it difficult to predict how individuals may react.

Here are the generally accepted short-term physiological effects of each drug class:

  • Depressants make individuals feel tired, slow, relaxed, unfocused, uncoordinated and unable to think clearly.
  • Hallucinogens may cause abnormal visual or auditory experiences, unusual thoughts, or altered awareness.
  • Stimulants can lead to anxiety, agitation, and increased heart rate.

Persistent effects of marijuana use.

New research continues to evolve our knowledge about the effects of marijuana and THC.

Cognitive effects and mental health.

Marijuana use can affect attention, concentration, and short- term memory. For students with a diagnosis of ADD or ADHD, using marijuana worsens these pre-existing attention difficulties. New research suggests that marijuana’s effects can last up to three days after use. These persistent effects (sometimes called “pot hangovers”) can include impaired memory and learning skills and a decrease in alertness, coordination, and depth perception.

Heavier marijuana users have higher deficits in these areas than those who use at lower levels. The cognitive effects of marijuana may vary by age. In research with adults, most cognitive deficits related to marijuana use seem to be temporary, with improvement after several weeks of abstinence. However, new research with adolescent samples (age 15-19) is showing that it may take longer for the adolescent brain to recover from deficits related to marijuana use, particular when it comes to attention.

Marijuana can lead to increased anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia in individuals who are predisposed to developing mental illness. For those with a history of anxiety or depression, marijuana use can worsen these symptoms. While some people report that using marijuana helps alleviate anxiety or depression in the short term, it can contribute to a long-term worsening of symptoms and reliance on marijuana as a coping mechanism to manage the anxiety and/or depression.

Physical effects

Marijuana raises the resting heart rate by 29 beats per minute and increases blood pressure. For those with pre-existing heart conditions, heart disease or a diagnosis of anxiety, smoking marijuana can be particularly unsafe.

Driving. Researchers are investigating the development of a per se limit as it relates to impairment from marijuana use much in the way that we have the .08 threshold in Massachusetts for alcohol. Know that there is a risk when it comes to driving under the influence of marijuana and that this risk appears to be present for a minimum of three hours after smoking.

Addictive potential & withdrawal symptoms

Heavy marijuana use can lead to dependence. “A quarter to a half of those who use marijuana daily are addicted to the drug.” (NIDA, 2010)

Withdrawal symptoms from marijuana include: irritability, sleeplessness, decreased appetite, anxiety, and drug craving. These symptoms begin about one day following abstinence, peak at 2-3 days, and subside within 1 or 2 weeks following cessation.

Sleep-related effects

While some individuals find that marijuana helps with falling asleep, it actually prevents the necessary rest and deep sleep the body requires during the remainder of the sleep cycle. Marijuana reduces REM (rapid eye movement) sleep—the type of sleep that allows people to feel rested and alert after waking up. Adequate REM sleep is also required for the development of long-term memory as well as muscle rebuilding and repair. Effects can last for several days after marijuana use and create disruption in the body’s natural sleep rhythm.

For more information and a list of references, check out our Marijuana brochure.

Prescription Drugs

Prescription Drugs

“Isn’t everyone doing it?”

No. Over 87% of Northeastern students have not used prescription drugs that were not prescribed to them in the past year. People frequently overestimate how much others misuse prescription medications because it’s more noticeable or they hear stories about those who misuse prescription drugs. Additionally, people tend to think that everyone uses the same way that they or that their group of friends do. As the numbers show, that may not be the case.

Misuse of prescription drugs includes:

  • Using higher doses or taking more often than prescribed
  • Taking other people’s prescription medication
  • Altering the medication’s delivery method (e.g. crushing & snorting )
  • Using a prescription medication in order to get high

Understand the chemistry.

Some additional FACTS about different types of prescription medications and their effects on the body:

Stimulants

Includes medications prescribed to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. Examples: Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta, Focalin, and Dexedrine.

(NOTE: Many energy drinks also contain substances designed to produce a stimulant effect. As such, they can be considered within this category of drug.)

Method of action: Stimulants increase alertness, attention and energy as well as elevate blood pressure and increase heart rate and respiration.

Potential Effects of Misuse:

  • Repeated use over a short period can lead to feelings of hostility or paranoia.
  • High doses may result in dangerously high body temperature and an irregular heartbeat.
  • Dependence on stimulants is real consideration for anyone taking them without medical supervision.
  • If used chronically, withdrawal symptoms—including fatigue, depression, and disturbed sleep patterns—can emerge when the drugs are discontinued.

Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants

Sometimes referred to as sedatives and tranquilizers, used in the treatment of anxiety and sleep disorders. Examples: Valium and Xanax.

Method of action: CNS depressants work by slowing the brain’s activity. They can produce a drowsy or calming effect.

Potential Effects of Misuse:

  • Continued use can lead to physical dependence and withdrawal when use is abruptly reduced or stopped.
  • If after continued use an individual stops taking the medication, the brain’s activity can “rebound” and race out of control, potentially leading to seizures, and other harmful consequences.
  • Combining CNS depressants with alcohol can affect heart rhythm, slow respiration, and even lead to death.

Opioids

Prescription narcotics usually prescribed for postsurgical pain relief and management of acute or chronic pain. Examples: codeine, oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet)

Method of action: Opioids attach to the receptors in your brain that block the perception of pain.

Potential Effects of Misuse:

  • Can produce drowsiness and (depending on dosage), cause severe respiratory depression
  • Some individuals experience euphoric effects from use; this feeling may be intensified for those who abuse opiods.
  • Misuse can lead to physical dependence and addiction. Withdrawal symptoms may be present when use is reduced or stopped.
  • Withdrawal symptoms include: restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes.

For more information and the reference list, check out out Prescription Drugs brochure.

Other Drugs

Other Drugs

Although not the largest group of drugs used by college students generally or Northeastern students specifically, drugs such as cocaine, LSD, mushrooms, speed, ecstasy, heroin, and inhalants are nonetheless used by students.

To learn more about individual drugs, click on the links below.