Drinking, smoking and other drug use are not uncommon human activities. Although fewer and fewer college students are cigarette smokers, “party” culture – especially drinking – is alive and well. Alcohol and other drugs have varying degrees of social and legal acceptance and varying levels of risk. Risks and effects depend on many factors including the drug itself, use patterns, biology and heredity, and interactions with other drugs. For some people, the best choice is abstinence; others can manage some level of moderation. The more you know, the better prepared you are to make the best decisions for yourself.

Substance Abuse

The World Health Organization describes substance abuse as the harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs. If your use – or a friend’s – rises to the level of harmful or hazardous, and this happens often, you may have a problem.

To learn more about specific drugs and their risks and effects, visit these trusted sites:

Good reminders for all of us:

  • All drugs and alcohol are not made equally- Keep in mind there are different types and strengths of alcohol and varying forms and potencies of drugs.

  • Make sure you’ve got your cup covered! Keeping an eye on your drink ensures you know what is (and is not) in there!

  • Eat before you drink! Not only will your stomach thank you (and maybe your friends, too), you’ll absorb alcohol a little slower.

  • Keep the fun going by avoiding binge drinking. Spread drinking out over the night (or day) and alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks to stay hydrated. Adding a snack or meal in there is also a good idea.

  • Know your limit and be aware of your surroundings. Keep a copy of your I.D. on you, as well as any notices for medical allergies/needs.

  • Don’t be secretive- make sure someone with you knows when, and in what ways, you’re experimenting with alcohol and drugs.

  • Substance use disorders are associated with sexually transmitted diseases. Practice safer sex.

Is it just fun or is it substance abuse?

Emotional signs that it’s not just fun/experimentation:

  • changes in mood, behavior or appearance

  • sleeping or eating too much or too little

  • grades slipping, attendance problems

  • nodding off or displaying manic behavior

  • defensive or secretive affect

Physical signs that it’s not just fun/experimentation:

  • Abnormal pupils in size/sensitivity/reaction

  • Sweating

  • Tremors

  • Convulsions

  • Staggering or unsteady gait

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Unconsciousness

  • Hallucinations

  • Delusional or paranoid behavior

  • Violent or aggressive behavior

If someone displays any signs or symptoms of overdose or withdrawal, please treat it as a medical emergency, dial 911, and then immediately call us  at (212) 443-9999 for further consultation and assistance.


Though tobacco use has declined significantly over the past couple of decades, there are still many students who smoke. Quitting smoking is the single best thing you can do for your health and the positive effects begin immediately. Quit & Win is NYU’s individualized, no-cost, confidential coaching program to help students quit. Learn more here.  For a quick reference guide to dealing with the urge to smoke, click here (PDF).

E-cigarette use (aka "vaping") is increasing and its safety is unclear. Although e-cigarettes may be a less harmful alternative to smoking, and are promoted as a way to quit smoking, they do contain nicotine (a stimulant which is also found in cigarettes). More research is needed to understand the risk benefit balance of these products.

Electronic Cigarettes

What are Electronic Cigarettes?

Electronic cigarettes, also known as “e-cigarettes,” are battery-operated devices meant to mimic the look and use of conventional cigarettes. The use of e-cigarettes is known as “vaping.” Some other names for electronic cigarettes are:

  • e-cigarettes, e-smokes, e-cigs, and cigalikes

  • vapes, personal vaporizers (PVs), and advanced personal vaporizers (APVs)

  • mods, pod mods, pod vape devices, vape mods, and box mods

  • wop machines

  • pens and vape pens

  • electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS)

E-cigars, e-pipes and hookah pens (e-hookah) are other electronic devices which use e-liquids.

E-cigarettes mostly consist of a battery, a heating element and a cartridge containing a liquid or gel. Most contain highly addictive nicotine.  The heating element vaporizes the cartridge components into a mist which is then inhaled. E-cigarettes can be rechargeable and often glow at the end when activated to further resemble conventional cigarettes.  The newest type of e-cigarette is called Juul. It looks like a flash drive and the refill pods contain oils to create a vapor that quickly dissolves into the air. Its exploding popularity has public health officials concerned.

Health Risks

It is estimated that 174,000 adults and 42,000 adolescents use e-cigarettes in New York City. Nationally, use of e-cigarettes among high school students increased by 900% from 2011 to 2015.

In addition to nicotine, analysis of e-cigarette cartridge sampled by the FDA shows that they can also include flavor additives, carcinogens such as propylene glycol and nitrosamines, and other toxic chemicals. Poor cartridge labeling and lack of health warnings make it hard for consumers to know what potentially harmful chemicals may be in these products.

In particular, they can contain:

  • fine and ultrafine toxic particles that can interfere with the growth and work of the lungs and increase the risk of heart disease, lung cancer, and asthma attacks

  • heavy metals such as lead, tin, and nickel

  • chemicals used for flavoring such as diacetyl that can cause a serious lung disease commonly known as "popcorn lung"

  • volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can cause long-term health effects including cancer

Many of the chemicals found in cigarette smoke are also found in e-cigarette aerosol, such as:

  • formaldehyde, also found in embalming fluid

  • cadmium, used in batteries

  • benzene, found in gasoline

  • toluene, an industrial solvent


Nicotine is known to raise cholesterol and high blood pressure which can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. The nicotine content of e-cigarette cartridges can vary greatly and pose a risk for nicotine addiction as well as nicotine overdose. One Juul pod can contain as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. Evidence suggests that nicotine use during adolescence and young adulthood has long-term impacts on brain development.

E-cigarettes as a Smoking Cessation Tool

E-cigarettes are often marketed for smoking cessation. Researchers are investigating if substituting e-cigarettes for cigarettes may help adults quit smoking, but this is unproven. Most of the scientific evidence to date finds that e-cigarette use does not lead to higher rates of smoking cessation compared to standard cessation tools.  E-cigarettes are not an FDA-approved smoking cessation product. FDA-approved tools include over-the-counter nicotine patches, gum and lozenges, prescription nicotine inhalers and sprays  and prescription medications such as Varenicline (Chantix) or Bupropion (Zyban).

Public Health Concerns

Public health officials are especially concerned with the use of e-cigarettes among young people.  Officials are worried that the appeal of flavored nicotine cartridges (e.g. mint, chocolate, bubble gum) can become a “gateway” to other tobacco products. The decreasing price of e-cigarettes makes the product more accessible to young and lower-income smokers.

Using e-cigarettes has been shown to increase the likelihood of smoking cigarettes among young people. A new consensus report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, Public Health Consequence of E-Cigarettes, states that there is substantial evidence that e-cigarette use increases risk of ever using combustible tobacco cigarettes among youth and young adults. A December 2017 study by the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences, published in the American Journal of Medicine, found that young adults who use e-cigarettes are more than four times as likely to begin smoking tobacco cigarettes within 18 months as their peers who do not vape.

In addition to concerns about user risk, there is concern about the effects of inhaling ‘second-hand’ vapor and this has spurred the pursuit of bans.

Regulation of Electronic Cigarettes

New York State banned the use of vaping devices indoors as of November 2017 – their use is banned anywhere cigarettes are. The FDA began the process of regulating e-cigarettes in August 2016, and manufacturers will be required to submit applications to market these products. The the sale of e-cigarettes to minors under 18 is prohibited. Globally, 83 countries regulate e-cigarette use.

What We DON'T Know

  • What’s in them

  • How much risk they pose for nicotine addiction and overdose

  • Which harmful chemicals & toxins have made their way in to the mix

  • When the full health warnings will be rolled-out

  • How harmful nicotine use during adolescence can be to brain development

  • Which negative health consequences are to come                  

  • If they actually lead to less cigarette use by those trying to quit

  • What the full risk is for inhaling these products second-hand

What We DO Know

  • It is estimated that 174,000 adults and 42,000 adolescents use e-cigarettes in New York City

  • Nationally, use of e-cigarettes among high school students increased by 900% from 2011 to 2015

  • New York State banned the use of vaping devices indoors as of November 2017– They are banned everywhere cigarettes are.

  • FDA samples show e-cigarettes include flavor additives, carcinogens such as propylene glycol and nitrosamines, and other toxic chemicals.

  • Nicotine is an addictive drug and it is possible to overdose on it.

  • Use of e-cigarettes among U.S. high school students increased by 900% from 2011 to 2015. (At least we’re older and wiser!)

  • One Juul pod can contain as much nicotine as 1 pack of cigarettes.

  • E-cigarettes are not an FDA-approved smoking cessation product.

In recovery?

If you are in recovery, congratulations on coming this far! Being a student and being in recovery can be challenging. Finding and enlisting support is important. Buddy up with friends who are sober, attend some of the free substance-free events offered through NYU – LiveWellNYU is a good place to start – or host your own with PAWS funding. NYU also offers individual and group counseling.