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Social Sci LibreTexts

10.4: Substance Use and Abuse

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  • Learning Objectives

    1. Define the terms “substance,” “abuse,” and “addictive.”
    2. Describe physical and mental effects associated with smoking and frequent or heavy drinking.
    3. List the risks of using drugs.
    4. Know how to get help if you have a substance use habit to break.

    Substance is the word health professionals use for most things you might take into your body besides food. When people talk about substances, they often mean drugs—but alcohol and nicotine are also drugs and are considered substances.

    Substances—any kind of drug—have effects on the body and mind. People use these substances for their effects. But many substances have negative effects, including being physically or psychologically addictive. What is important with any substance is to be aware of its effects on your health and on your life as a student, and to make smart choices. Use of any substance to the extent that it has negative effects is generally considered abuse.

    First, consider your own habits and attitudes with the Substance Use Self-Assessment.

    Substance Use Self-Assessment

    Check the appropriate boxes.

    Daily Sometimes Never
    1. I smoke cigarettes or use smokeless tobacco.
    2. I drink beer or other alcohol.
    3. I have missed a class because I was hung over from drinking the night before.
    4. I have taken a medication that was not prescribed for me.
    5. I have used an illegal drug.

    Write your answers.

    1. If you smoke cigarettes, how many a day do you usually smoke?



    2. If you drink alcohol (including beer), on how many days in a typical week do you have at least one drink?



    3. If you drink at parties or when out with friends, how many drinks (or beers) do you typically have at one time?



    4. If you use a pharmaceutical or illegal drug, how often do you take it?



    5. Are your habits of smoking, drinking, or using other drugs affecting your studies or grades?



    Smoking and Tobacco: Why Start, and Why Is It So Hard to Stop?

    Everyone knows smoking is harmful to one’s health. Smoking causes cancer and lung and heart disease. Most adult smokers continue smoking not because they really think it won’t harm them but because it’s very difficult to stop.

    If you have never smoked or used smokeless tobacco, feel good about your choices. But read this section anyway because you may have friends now or in the future who smoke, and it’s important to understand this behavior. If you do smoke, even only rarely as a “social smoker,” be honest with yourself—wouldn’t you like to stop if you thought you could without suffering? Simply by being in college now, you’ve shown that you care about your future and your life. You likely care about your health, too.

    Many young smokers think there is plenty of time to quit later. Social smokers, who may have a cigarette only occasionally with a friend, usually think they won’t develop a habit. But smokers are fooling themselves. Nicotine is one of the most addictive drugs in our society today. Admitting this to yourself is the first step toward becoming smoke free.

    First, the good news. Stopping smoking brings immediate health benefits, and the benefits get better over time. Just twenty minutes after quitting, your heart rate drops. After two weeks to three months, your heart attack risk begins to drop and your lung function begins to improve. After one year, your added risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker’s. And every year your health continues to improve.

    Tips for Stopping Smoking

    Stopping isn’t easy. Many ex-smokers say it was the hardest thing they ever did. Still, over 45 million adults in the United States once smoked and then successfully stopped.

    You know it’s worth the effort. And it’s easier if you think it through and make a good plan. There’s lots of help available. Before you quit, the National Cancer Institute suggests you START with these five important steps:

    1. S = Set a quit date.
    2. T = Tell family, friends, and coworkers that you plan to quit.
    3. A = Anticipate and plan for the challenges you’ll face while quitting.
    4. R = Remove cigarettes and other tobacco products from your home, car, and work.
    5. T = Talk to your doctor about getting help to quit.

    To get ready, download the booklet “Clearing the Air: Quit Smoking Today” at The table of contents of that booklet (Figure 10.3) outlines the basic steps that will help you be successful.

    When You Really Crave a Cigarette

    Remember that the urge to smoke will come and go. Try to wait it out. Use these tips:

    • Keep other things around instead of cigarettes. Try carrots, pickles, sunflower seeds, apples, celery, raisins, or sugar-free gum.
    • Wash your hands or the dishes when you want a cigarette very badly. Or take a shower.
    • Learn to relax quickly by taking deep breaths.

      • Take ten slow, deep breaths and hold the last one.
      • Then breathe out slowly.
      • Relax all of your muscles.
      • Picture a soothing, pleasant scene.
      • Just get away from it all for a moment.
      • Think only about that peaceful image and nothing else.
    • Light incense or a candle instead of a cigarette.
    • Where you are and what is going on can make you crave a cigarette. A change of scene can really help. Go outside or go to a different room. You can also try changing what you are doing.
    • No matter what, don’t think, “Just one won’t hurt.” It will hurt. It will undo your work so far.
    • Remember that trying something to beat the urge is always better than trying nothing.

    Get Help to Stop Smoking

    A lot of people are not able to stop smoking by themselves, so don’t feel bad if you aren’t successful the first try. Ask your doctor about other ways to stop. Maybe nicotine-replacement therapy is what you need. Maybe you need prescription medication. Stop by your college’s student health center and learn about smoking cessation programs. Your doctor and other health professionals at your school have a lot of experience helping people—they can help you find what works for you.