Alcohol | Tobacco | Caffeine | Dietary Supplements and Over-the-Counter Drugs

unit 3: Alcohol and Familiar Drugs

Student Learning Outcomes

After completing this unit you should be able to:
  • Identify within an objective style test the different types of legal substances commonly used, misused and abused and the historical and cultural aspects of legal substances.
  • Evaluate in writing either via the discussion forum area and/or the journal area how the legalization of certain drugs and the illegality of other drugs affects American society.

Now that we have explored who uses drugs, why people use drugs, how drugs effect the human body and routes of drug administration, it is time to turn our attention to the drugs themselves. We are going to start with a look at the drugs that can be purchased legally without a prescription.

Without a doubt the most widely used drug on the planet is caffeine. From the morning latte, to the afternoon Pepsi, people consume caffeine more than any other drug. Fueling people's desire for more energy is the energy drink business. Demand for heavily caffeinated energy drinks like Red Bull, Monster, Rock Star, etc. have seen the value of their companies increase by over 400% in the last five years according to

Other legal substances require one to be of a certain age before the substance can be purchased. In the U.S. one must be 18 years of age to purchase tobacco products and 21 years of age to purchase alcohol. It's interesting to note that 18 year olds in the U.S. can vote and serve in the military, but they can't legally consume alcohol. It may also be interesting to some that the legal drinking age in the U.S. is the highest in the world excluding some Islamic run governments that prohibit any alcohol consumption (

Efforts to curb tobacco consumption in the U.S. have ramped up in recent years as increases in tobacco taxes have resulted in the price of a carton of cigarettes to go from less than $9 a carton in 1989 to nearly $50 a carton in 2009.

The final area of consideration in this unit will have us exploring the different herbal and dietary supplements as well as over-the-counter medications. Over-the-counter medicines are a very lucrative business in the U.S. with over $200 billion in sales in 2003.

what do i need to know?

It is imperative one understand the current war on drugs in the U.S. is similar to the fight to prohibit alcohol in the U.S. that occured in the early 1900's.

An examination of the legal drinking age and whether lowering the drinking age would decrease the amount of binge drinking that occurs in the U.S. is worthy of debate. It may also be worth debating whether alcohol should remain legal as it plays a role in approximately half of all fatal car crashes and violent crimes committed in the U.S. Because of the failure of prohibition, many people accept alcohol as a necessary evil, yet they can't bear the thought of legalizing currently illegal substances like marijuana.

We all know the dangers associated with consuming tobacco products, 440,000 deaths each year, yet tobacco sales continue to be legal in the U.S.
Are higher tobacco taxes achieving their goal? Are they justifiable? What about limitations for places where people can smoke-- are they justifiable? Answers to these questions will continue to be put before the electorate in coming years.

In your exploration of dietary supplements, please consider the difference between how food products in the U.S. are regulated versus drug products. You will need to determine for yourself the safety and efficacy of taking herbal and/or dietary supplements, but please be sure you review the materials thoroughly from chapter 12 so you may make an informed decision.

why do i need to know this?

Most lifelong smokers began smoking before the age of 15. According to many addiction specialists nicotine addiction is as difficult to quit as is heroin or cocaine addiction. "Although only 5 percent of high school smokers said that they would definitely be smoking five years later, close to 75 percent were still smoking 7 to 9 years later" (

The leading cause of death for 18-24 year olds is accidents. In 2006, nearly 14,000 people were killed by drivers who were driving under the influence. Nearly one in three fatal car crashes involved alcohol.
Binge drinking, consuming more than five drinks in one sitting, results in 1,400 deaths, 500,000 injuries, 70,000 sexual assaults, and 110,000 arrests each year.

The main trial I face as a health educator is recognizing that some 18-24 year olds still act as if they are adolescents and believe they are invincible. They falsely believe that only other people die when drinking and driving or that they could quit smoking any time they wish they just want to fit in and will quit later when they no longer need to smoke to be a part of a group. I am sorry to say that the statistics don't lie and you run real risks with your health when you drink too much alcohol or start smoking cigarettes. But health issues aren't limited to drinking and smoking as some young people have found the dangers associated with taking dietary supplements or misusing over-the-counter medications.

It will be your decision whether you will make informed, rational decisions or whether you will make rash decisions that will potentially affect the rest of your life.

If you are interested in rationality and information, click on the link below to learn more.

>>>Unit 3a: Alcohol