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I want to know more about substance use

There are students who may use substances and who experience minimal or no side effects or detrimental effects on their life and studies. However, some students may become dependent on substances to cope with emotions, manage mental ill health or the stressors of academic study. Be aware of the dangers associated with addictive substances so that you can make informed decisions about the way you live your life and care for your health.

  • Smoking

Smoking increases your risk of lung cancer and heart disease. It prematurely ages the skin and triples your chance of getting wrinkles around your eyes and mouth. It also causes impotence and reduced sperm count in men, and reduces fertility in women.

It can lead to gum disease, makes the body store fat around the waist and increases the risk of cellulite.

Don't assume that smoking will help you through the stress of exams. Nicotine withdrawals can make you feel stressed and anxious and intake of further nicotine alleviates this. This gives you the false impression that smoking is useful for stress management, but it only helps to manage the withdrawal and cravings you feel from smoking in the first place. E-cigarettes have this same effect, though are considered a safer option to cigarettes if they are used as a stop smoking tool.

If you’re already a smoker, becoming a student could be the ideal time to quit. Going to university or college is a fresh start and a new way of life, and this is your chance to start your new life in a positive, healthy way. There is lots of support to help you quit smoking including services in Barnet.

Read how the NHS can help you stop smoking.

  • Considering cutting down?

    FACT: Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) and prescription stop smoking tablets  can double your chances of successfully quitting.

    FACT: NRT is free from many stop smoking services and GPs and even if you pay the prescription cost, is a lot cheaper than cigarettes.

    FACT: Nicotine does not cause cancer.

  • Considering making the switch?

    FACT: E-cigarettes help people to quit smoking.

    FACT: E-cigarettes are 95% less harmful than cigarettes.

    FACT: Switching to e-cigarettes can save smokers £780 per year.

  • E-cigarettes

Use of e-cigarettes or vaping has become more popular in the last few years. It is widely understood that vaping is much less harmful than smoking as e-cigarettes do not burn tobacco and therefore do not contain many of the same harmful substances as cigarettes.

E-cigarettes can be a very helpful stop smoking tool as they contain nicotine. However, for this same reason they are addictive and using them for pleasure rather than as a stop smoking tool will likely lead to addiction.

  • Alcohol

Drinking in moderation can be an enjoyable and usually harmless feature of student life. However, drinking and getting drunk regularly can have potentially serious physical, social and academic effects. Even drinking to excess just occasionally can be damaging.

In the short term, drinking too much can impair academic performance because it affects concentration and makes you more likely to miss classes, hand in work late and do badly in exams. It can also put you at immediate risk of serious harm. The healthy choice in the short term is to take extra care to protect yourself and your friends if you are going out drinking. For example, know your own limits, make sure you know how to get home safely, stay in groups of people you know and do not leave with strangers.

In the longer term, regularly drinking too much can cause liver disease, an increased risk of heart attack, weight gain and a number of different cancers. If you've had a heavy drinking session, you should remain alcohol-free for a full 48 hours to give your body time to recover.

Use this alcohol tracker tool to check how much you're drinking.

  • Alcohol poisoning

Alcohol Poisoning Symptoms: What to do if you have alcohol overdose

Please note that this video is directed at a US audience – in England you must dial 999 to request emergency services. 

Alcohol poisoning occurs when someone has consumed toxic levels of alcohol over a short period of time. In the most severe cases, alcohol poisoning can lead to coma, brain damage and death.

The signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:

  • confusion
  • severely slurred speech
  • loss of co-ordination
  • vomiting
  • irregular or slow breathing
  • hypothermia (pale or blue-tinged skin caused by low body temperature)
  • stupor (being conscious but unresponsive)
  • passing out and being unconscious

When to seek medical help

If you suspect a fellow student may have alcohol poisoning and they are in halls or on campus, contact Security immediately for support. If you are not in halls or campus, dial 999 immediately to request an ambulance. While you're waiting:

  • try to keep them sitting up and awake
  • give them water if they can drink it
  • if they've passed out, lie them on their side in the recovery position and check they're breathing properly
  • keep them warm
  • stay with them and monitor their symptoms

Never leave a person alone to 'sleep it off'. The level of alcohol in a person's blood can continue to rise for up to 30-40 minutes after their last drink. This can cause their symptoms to suddenly become much more severe. You also shouldn't give them coffee or any more alcohol, put them under a cold shower or walk them around. These won't help someone 'sober up' and may even be dangerous.

Drinkaware is an independent charity working to reduce alcohol misuse and harm in the UK. They offer a free chat service if you would like to speak to someone about your alcohol intake, advice and support. If you aren’t sure if your level of drinking is ‘normal’, take the self-assessment or the drink aware quiz.

Adfam is a charity that supports families affected by drugs and alcohol. They also list here a number of other support services

Change Grow Live (Barnet) offer free and confidential self-referral support if you are concerned about your own drug and/or alcohol use. If you live elsewhere, find your local support service here.

  • Drugs

Experimenting with drugs can sometimes be presented as part of the "student experience". But drugs are illegal for a reason. As well as the risks to your mental and physical health, the legal penalties for drug possession can be severe. Middlesex students found to be using or dealing drugs on campus or in halls of residence may have sanctions brought against them.

There are also legal substances for sale with potential health risks – called ‘legal highs’. However, just because these drugs are legal does not mean that they are safe for use and many are found to contain substances very damaging to health. Like illegal drugs, users are often unaware of what substances they are taking or in what dosages, with obvious implications for health.

The best way to minimise your risk from drugs is not to use them. If you still wish to continue using drugs, find out as much information as you can about any drugs you're using, including the risks, the potential for addiction and what happens when you mix one drug with another or with alcohol. The Loop offer harm reduction advice and services.

Change Grow Live offer harm reduction advice, counselling, access to suitable medications and further signposting if required. If you are considering taking illegal substances, or are already using substances, speak to them for non-judgmental information and advice in a confidential space.

FRANK offers honest information about drugs and provides practical advice and signposting to support.

  • 'Study' and 'smart' drugs

You might have heard of 'study drugs' or 'smart drugs'. These are drugs prescribed for conditions such as narcolepsy in other people and sold to students to try to improve exam performance. However, there is no consistent evidence to suggest that use of study or smart drugs can help people to remember information. By taking drugs prescribed for other people, you cannot be certain of what drugs are contained in the substance, or in what quantity. It is very dangerous to take unknown substances and by doing so you put yourself at risk of serious harm. The risk to you can be sudden and harmful after just one use and repeated use can lead to addiction.

Find out more about the risks of 'study' drugs.

Watch this short clip on the dangers of 'study' drugs below:

The Side Effects of Study Drugs

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