Drinking, drugs, and their affects.

It’s often difficult to tell when someone’s use of alcohol and drugs like marijuana, prescription pills, LSD, or crystal meth is a problem, particularly since each substance interacts very differently from other drugs and from person to person.  It’s important to educate yourself about substance problems, and you can also take a free, confidential screening or call UMSL Counseling Services at 314-516-5711 to schedule an appointment to talk about your concerns with us.


When assessing alcohol use, it’s useful to explore the drinker’s feelings about their drinking, their loved one’s assessment of their drinking, and the effect of their drinking on their functioning.  It’s a common misconception that as long as someone isn’t drinking alone or feeling like they need to drink, they don’t have a drinking problem.  Drinkers who try to cut down on drinking unsuccessfully, feel annoyed by others’ criticism of their drinking, feel guilty about how much they drink, and/or feel that they can’t function without having a drink first thing in the morning may also be having difficulty meeting their obligations and fulfilling their goals.  One indicator of a problem is if the drinker finds it difficult to abstain from drinking for a few days or a week; many people with alcohol dependence disorders report they plan to drink less or not at all, but then feel unable to follow their plan.  This difficulty controlling use can result in physical and social consequences, i.e., hangovers, family problems, work problems, etc. 

Young adults and people who have a family history of substance use disorders, including alcohol, are more at risk for alcohol dependence.  Other high-risk groups include men, abuse survivors, and/or those who suffer from a depressive or anxiety disorder.  If you are a member of one of these groups, it is even more important to take care of yourself and monitor your substance use.

How to moderate your drinking

  • Set a realistic goal for your alcohol use.
  • Keep an honest journal of your drinking.
  • Start with a non-alcoholic drink to quench your thirst.
  • Don't drink on an empty stomach.
  • Alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
  • Avoid heavy drinking situations.
  • If you find yourself using alcohol as a way to cope with stress or difficult emotions, it may be very hard to reduce your drinking without learning new skills.  Call 314-516-5711 to set up an appointment with UMSL Counseling Services to talk about how to replace unhealthy coping skills with healthier ones.
  • You may pick up a book like Controlling Your Drinking to help you evaluate your alcohol consumption, decide what changes you want to make, create a doable plan of action, learn new ways to enjoy social events, defuse tension and stress, and cope with difficult emotions--with or without a glass in hand.
  • Some people are not able to enjoy a healthy, happy life if alcohol is any part of it, and may need extra help controlling their drinking.  View local recovery options, or call UMSL Counseling Services for help with a referral or information about UMSL's Recovery Community.


Marijuana is the most popular drug after alcohol and tobacco.  It’s so common many users may perceive it as a safe drug, however, there are some dangers to consider.  It also affects brain development; when marijuana users begin using as teenagers, the drug may reduce thinking, memory, and learning functions and affect how the brain builds connections between the areas necessary for these functions.

Physical effects

  • Breathing problems.  Marijuana smoke irritates the lungs, and frequent marijuana smokers can have the same breathing problems that tobacco smokers have. These problems include daily cough and phlegm, more frequent lung illness, and a higher risk of lung infections. Researchers still do not know whether marijuana smokers have a higher risk for lung cancer.
  • Increased heart rate.  Marijuana raises one’s heart rate for up to 3 hours after smoking. This effect may increase the chance of heart attack. Older people and those with heart problems may be at higher risk
  • Problems with child development during and after pregnancy.  Marijuana use during pregnancy is linked to increased risk of both brain and behavioral problems in babies. If a pregnant woman uses marijuana, the drug may affect certain developing parts of the fetus’s brain. Resulting challenges for the child may include problems with attention, memory, and problem-solving. Additionally, some research suggests that moderate amounts of THC are excreted into the breast milk of nursing mothers. The effects on a baby’s developing brain are still unknown.


Mental effects

If you have a personal or family history of psychotic disorder, anxiety, depression, and/or substance use disorder, you need to be extra cautious about marijuana because these traits make you more likely to struggle with controlling your use or suffer from severe adverse effects.  Long-term marijuana use has been linked to mental illness in some users, such as:

  • temporary hallucinations—sensations and images that seem real though they are not
  • temporary paranoia—extreme and unreasonable distrust of others
  • worsening symptoms in patients with schizophrenia (a severe mental disorder with symptoms such as hallucinations, paranoia, and disorganized thinking)

 Marijuana use has also been linked to other mental health problems, such as:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • suicidal thoughts among teens
Is marijuana addictive?

Contrary to common belief, marijuana can be addictive. Research suggests that about 1 in 11 users becomes addicted to marijuana (Anthony, 1994; Lopez-Quintero 2011).This number increases among those who start as teens (to about 17 percent, or 1 in 6) (Anthony, 2006) and among people who use marijuana daily (to 25-50 percent) (Hall & Pacula, 2003).

How Does Marijuana Affect a User’s Life?

Problems occur when marijuana becomes someone’s chief way of coping with sadness, anger, loneliness, boredom, or any negative state.  Because heavy marijuana users don’t give themselves the opportunity to develop better coping skills, compared to nonusers, heavy marijuana users more often report the following:

  • lower life satisfaction
  • poorer mental health
  • poorer physical health
  • more relationship problems

Users also report less academic and career success. For example, marijuana use is linked to a higher likelihood of dropping out of school (McCaffrey, 2010). It is also linked to more job absences, accidents, and injuries (Zwerling, 1990). 

How can people get treatment for marijuana addiction?

Long-term marijuana users trying to quit report withdrawal symptoms that make quitting difficult. These include:

  • grouchiness
  • sleeplessness
  • decreased appetite
  • anxiety
  • cravings

Behavioral support has been effective in treating marijuana addiction; UMSL Counseling Services can help you get connected to resources. Examples include therapy and motivational incentives (providing rewards to patients who remain substance free). No medications are currently available to treat marijuana addiction. However, continuing research may lead to new medications that help ease withdrawal symptoms, block the effects of marijuana, and prevent relapse.

Learn More

More information on marijuana and marijuana use:

More information on marijuana as medicine and state laws related to marijuana:

 Adapted from information from the National Institute on Drug Addiction.

Other Drugs

If you’ve come to our site because you have concerns that you might have a problem with a substance, it might be useful to come in and talk to us confidentially about your questions.  Some general signs to look for that your substance use has gone from fun to a problem that needs to change:

  • craving for the drug
  • failure to control use when attempted
  • continued use despite interference with major obligations or social functioning
  • use of larger amounts over time
  • development of tolerance
  • spending a great deal of time to obtain and use the substance
  • withdrawal symptoms that occur after stopping or reducing use
  • friends or other loved ones have expressed concern that your use is out of control or that you’ve changed since you started using the drug