Drugs – The Legal Ones – Home Support Services

Drugs – The Legal Ones

Three legal drugs widely used are caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. Each can do us significant harm if abused.


Caffeine is a stimulant with similar effects to adrenaline. In small quantities it is not harmful, but taken in large doses it may be toxic. Too much caffeine can cause heart palpitations and may act as a diuretic causing the kidneys to excrete excessive water. It also reduces calcium levels in the body affecting bone growth and maintenance.

How much caffeine is too much?

Caffeine is toxic in doses over 300mgs. This is equivalent to three mugs of instant coffee, six cups of tea, eight cans of cola or four high energy drinks. The most startling effect is how long it takes our body to clear caffeine. After 5 hours half of what we have consumed will still be in our bodies.

While a cup of coffee from time to time can enhance our cognitive ability, when we drink too much for a period of time we are less able to concentrate, make more mistakes and the quality of sleep will become impaired. If you recognise any of these symptoms it’s time to detox. You will probably get a severe withdrawal headache but will soon start to feel better. Replace your caffeinated drinks with decaffeinated tea, coffee, and have your caffeine containing drinks now and then only.


When a person smokes a cigarette, the body responds immediately to the chemical nicotine in the smoke. Nicotine causes a short term increase in blood pressure, heart rate and the flow of blood from the heart. It also causes the arteries to narrow. Nicotine is associated with various forms of malignant cancer.

Nicotine is a highly addictive substance found naturally in tobacco. It travels quickly to the brain when it is inhaled and can cause a feeling of temporary relaxation and or stress relief.

Why do smokers smoke when they feel stressed?

Because when they do they breathe deeply-which is what our bodies associate with relaxation and they will experience the chemical effects of the drug.

You will find lots of advice for giving up smoking and the impact of doing so is very quick. Within 24 hours of giving up smoking our blood oxygen levels come back up to normal and blood carbon monoxide level drops back to near zero. Our lungs start to clear the soot ash and old mucus, our clothes smell fresh and we’ve saved some money! A month later we have no nicotine in our body, we can breathe better, food tastes and smells wonderful and most importantly our blood circulation has improved. After a year, breathing is better and we have reduced the risk of a heart attack to half that of a smoker. Still not smoking ten years later and we have reduced the chances of getting lung cancer by 50 %.


Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant affecting concentration and coordination and slowing the response time to unexpected situations. In small doses alcohol produces relaxation, a lowering of inhibitions and a feeling of confidence.

Short term effects of alcohol include memory loss, poor judgement, dehydration, headaches and dizziness. Long term over use of alcohol increases susceptibility to heart disease, strokes, cancer, liver and pancreatic diseases, stomach problems, infertility and impotence and osteoporosis. As well as these effects there are the social and emotional effects of alcohol abuse.

The Heart Foundation recommends that

  • People should not drink more than two standard drinks a day
  • Woman with high blood pressure should not drink more than one standard drink a day
  • Everyone should have at least 2 alcohol free days a week.

What’s a standard drink?

A can of mid –strength beer, a small glass of wine or a nip of spirits.

Tips to lower your Alcohol intake

  • Alternate your alcoholic drinks with water or diet soft drinks
  • Dilute alcoholic drinks if possible with mineral water, soda water or diet soft drinks
  • Use only half measures of spirits
  • Choose low alcohol or light beer
  • When you are thirsty drink water instead of alcohol
  • Establish 2 alcohol free days a week
  • When stressed, take a walk or exercise instead of drinking


Adapted from the Heart Foundation “My Heart My Life” / Brilliant Stress Management by Mike Clayton / Taking Care of yourself and your family by John Ashfield