Overview of Alcohol and Other Drugs

What are some of the concerns surrounding alcohol use?

Whether you choose to drink or not, the chances are that your college life will be affected by alcohol in one way or another. For those who do choose to drink, it is important to note that excessive alcohol use, including underage drinking and binge drinking (drinking 5 or more drinks men or 4 or more drinks for women in a two hour period of time), can lead to increased risk of many health problems. Short term health problems can include injuries, violence, risky behaviors and alcohol poisoning. Long term health problems can include psychiatric disorders, cardiovascular problems, liver diseases, and cancer.

The NIH reports that, “Although the majority of students come to college already having some experience with alcohol, certain aspects of college life, such as unstructured time, the widespread availability of alcohol, inconsistent enforcement of underage drinking laws, and limited interactions with parents and other adults, can intensify the problem. In fact, college students have higher binge ­drinking rates and a higher incidence of drunk driving than their non-­college peers. The first 6 weeks of freshman year is an especially vulnerable time for heavy drinking and alcohol­ related consequences because of student expectations and social pressures at the start of the academic year.”

In addition to the Think About It online alcohol program completed by freshmen, there are many resources available for students on campus. The information and tips below include a list of resources that Health Education Services, Student Health and CAPS provide, as well as resources in the DC area.

What are some of the health effects of alcohol?

The use of alcohol can result in numerous detrimental health outcomes, including physical, emotional, and psychological effects. Some of these consequences include memory loss, impaired judgment, loss of coordination, increased aggression, permanent damage to vital organs, substance dependence, or even death. The health effects of alcohol use include:

  • Impaired judgment and coordination
  • Hindered ability to learn and remember information
  • Increased aggression and abusive acts
  • High dose related dependency, respiratory depression or death
  • Withdrawal related anxiety, nausea, hallucinations and convulsions
  • Damaged vital organs, such as the liver
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome when too much alcohol is consumed by pregnant women

How does the body process alcohol?

Once swallowed, a drink enters the stomach and small intestine, where small blood vessels carry it to the bloodstream. Approximately 20% of alcohol is absorbed through the stomach and most of the remaining 80% is absorbed through the small intestine.

Alcohol is metabolized by the liver, where enzymes break down the alcohol. Understanding the rate of metabolism is critical to understanding the effects of alcohol. In general, the liver can process one ounce of liquor (or one standard drink) in one hour. If you consume more than this, your system becomes saturated, and the additional alcohol will accumulate in the blood and body tissues until it can be metabolized. This is why pounding shots or playing drinking games can result in high blood alcohol concentrations that last for several hours.

It's also important to understand what constitutes one "drink." Many people believe that if they have a 16 oz drink in a solo cup, then they are having one "drink."

One drink:
According to the CDC, in the United States, a standard drink is any drink that contains 0.6 ounces (14.0 grams or 1.2 tablespoons) of pure alcohol. Generally, this amount of pure alcohol is found in:

  • 12-ounces of regular beer or wine cooler.
  • 8-ounces of malt liquor.
  • 5-ounces of wine.
  • 1.5-ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, whiskey).

What are symptoms of alcohol poisoning?

It is important to be able to recognize the signs of alcohol poisoning. Symptoms can include:

  • Mental confusion, stupor, unconsciousness, coma
  • Slurred speech
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Seizures
  • Poor coordination
  • Slow or irregular breathing patterns (more than 10 seconds between breaths)
  • Low body temperature, bluish skin color, paleness

It is not necessary for all of these symptoms to be present before seeking help. A person who is unconscious or cannot be roused is at risk of dying -- call GERMS at 202-687-HELP (4357) immediately.

What do I do if someone has alcohol poisoning or drug overdose?

A person experiencing alcohol poisoning or drug overdose will need urgent medical attention. Recognize this as an emergency, and seek medical care immediately:

  • Call GERMS at 202-687-HELP (4357) or 911 if off-campus
  • Never leave the person unattended
  • While waiting for help, turn the person on his/her side to avoid choking (if the person vomits)
  • If the person has been injured in a fall, do not move them; ask GERMS or 911 for guidance.

How do I prevent excessive alcohol intoxication or alcohol poisoning?

  • Alcohol poisoning occurs when someone consumes large amounts of alcohol, especially in a short period of time. Alcohol poisoning can be prevented by doing the following:
  • Avoid mixed drinks and punches (it is difficult to tell how much alcohol you are consuming)
  • Pace and space the drinks you consume (the body typically can process one drink per hour)
  • Set limits for yourself and know when to stop consuming alcoholic beverages
  • Consume food before, while, and after drinking
  • Alternate alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic beverages
  • Enjoy non-alcoholic drinks instead

There are a number of factors that increase the risk of alcohol poisoning, such as:

  • Gender: Women are more susceptible to the effects of alcohol because they produce less of the enzyme that slows the release of alcohol in the stomach.
  • Size and weight: Smaller and thinner body types absorb alcohol quickly.
  • Overall health: Having health problems can increase vulnerability to the damaging of effects of alcohol e.g. (heart disease or diabetes, some prescription medications.)
  • Food consumption: Having food in the stomach can slightly slow alcohol from entering the bloodstream; however, food does not prevent alcohol poisoning.

What are some of the health effects of illegal drugs?

The use of illegal drugs can result in adverse health effects, including physical and psychological dependence. A detailed listing of the consequences of drug use is outlined below.

In the case of an accidental overdose, contact:

Georgetown Emergency Response Medical Service (GERMS)
Village C West 206
(202) 687-4357

For non-urgent information and resources on drug abuse, contact:

Dr. Patrick Kilcarr
Director, Center for Personal Development
1437 37th St NW, Poulton Hall Suite 101
(202) 687-8944

Additional resources surrounding substance abuse can be found here.

What are some health effects of illegal drugs?

Cannabis (Marijuana)

  • Reduces short-term memory and comprehension
  • Produces paranoia and psychosis
  • Damages lungs and respiratory system with inhalation of carcinogenic smoke
  • Alters sense of time
  • Dangerously increases heart rate

Hallucinogens (PCP, LSD)

  • Cause sense of distance and space estrangement, illusions and hallucinations
  • Create persistent memory problems and speech difficulties
  • Induce violent episodes that result in self-inflicted injuries
  • Produce negative psychological effects such as panic, confusion, suspicion, anxiety and loss of control
  • Result in side effects such as dizziness, weakness, tremor nausea and drowsiness

Narcotics (Codeine, morphine, opium, heroin)

  • Produce feelings of euphoria followed by drowsiness, nausea and vomiting
  • Create constricted pupils, watery eyes and itching
  • Can be deadly in overdose, causing shallow breathing, clammy skin, convulsions and death
  • Promote the transmission of AIDS, endocarditis and hepatitis through use of unsterilized syringes


  • Causes constant stuffy, runny nose and possible perforated nasal septum
  • Produces dilated pupils and elevated blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate and body temperature, followed by depression
  • Is extremely addictive and can cause delirium, hallucinations, blurred vision, severe chest pain, muscle spasms, convulsions and death

Designer Drugs (Ecstasy)

  • Are hundreds of times stronger than the drugs they’re designed to imitate
  • Cause symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease including tremors, drooling, impaired speech
  • Can cause brain damage with as little as one dose

Stimulants (Speed, crystal meth, Ritalin, Adderall)

  • Produce elevated blood pressure and heart rates, decreased appetite, perspiration, headache, blurred vision, dizziness, sleeplessness and anxiety
  • Cause physical collapse in high doses
  • Can result in amphetamine psychosis in long-term users, which includes hallucinations, delusions and paranoia

Inhalants (Whippets, laughing gas, buzz bombs)

  • Are mixtures of volatile substances, which makes it difficult to be specific about effects
  • Can cause nausea, sneezing, coughing, nose bleeds, fatigue, lack of coordination, loss of appetite and involuntary passing of urine and feces
  • May result in hepatitis, brain damage, nervous system damage, weight loss, fatigue, electrolyte imbalance and muscle weakness with long-term use

Depressants (Downers, Valium, quaaludes)

  • Have similar effects to alcohol
  • Cause calmness in small amounts, slurred speech and staggering gait in large doses
  • Can cause dependence with serious withdrawal symptoms such as restlessness, insomnia, convulsions and death

What are “study drugs” and what are some of the risks?

“Study drugs” are prescription stimulant medications that some students may misuse or abuse. Any use of these drugs if they were not prescribed for you constitutes illicit drug use and is against the law. Some college students use prescription stimulant medication to improve their focus, concentration, and ability to study for long periods of time. Students may take these drugs to write a paper, study for a test, or stay up late; some of the medications include Ritalin, Adderall, Vyvanse, Focalin, Concerta, Dexedrine, and Provigil. While these stimulants are normally used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), they can be abused when individuals obtain and take them without a prescription.

A number of negative consequences can result when these drugs are taken improperly:

  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Increased, irregular heart rate
  • Restlessness, nervousness, and agitation
  • Dizziness, headache, and blurred vision
  • Shaking and seizures
  • Sleeplessness, anxiety, and paranoia
  • Physical collapse after high doses

When used without a prescription, some of these stimulants can become addictive, resulting in physical dependence. After regular or increased use, discontinuing these drugs can lead to withdrawal symptoms. Medications are prescribed for a reason. Don’t take a chance and risk the potential negative and harmful costs of taking unprescribed medication!

Selling or abusing these medications is illegal, and doing so can result in sanctions from Georgetown University. Students who have been found to be taking these stimulants without a prescription will also fail to pass any background or workplace security clearances.

In the case of a drug overdose, contact:

Georgetown Emergency Response Medical Service (GERMS)
Village C West 206
(202) 687-4357

For information and resources on prescription drug abuse, contact:

Dr. Patrick Kilcarr
Director, Center for Personal Development
1437 37th St NW, Poulton Hall Suite 101
(202) 687-8944

Additional resources surrounding substance abuse can be found here.