Health notes

A lethal cocktail for young people


Just as young smokers brush aside threats of lung cancer and heart disease, so most drug addicts and alcoholics choose to ignore the potentially fatal side effects of dependency. For an addict, the drug is more important than anything else. Also, most drugs are mood elevators. Smoking crack cocaine – said to be singer Amy Winehouse’s drug of choice – makes users feel ‘wide-awake, confident, on top of their game,’ according to Frank, the drug information website ( But hopefully, having two seizures in under a year following massive drugs binges, and then being diagnosed with emphysema, an irreversible lung disease that leads to early death, will make even as determined a user as Amy, just 25, do a reality check.

‘Emphysema doesn’t usually affect smokers until their 50s and 60s, but crack cocaine causes immediate harm because it is usually bulked out with impurities – corn starch or talc, local anaesthetic lignocaine, washing powder or even strychnine – which are very damaging,’ says Dr Adrian Lord, medical director of Cygnet Health Care and a specialist in addiction. ‘The initial problem is usually crack lung, where the air sacs in the lung become inflamed and scarred; symptoms include coughing, difficulty with breathing and severe chest pain which develop within 48 hours of heavy crack smoking.’

Recent research has shown that snorting cocaine even twice a month can adversely affect the brain. Combining it with alcohol makes the impact at least doubly powerful. If
a mother has had a drink and a few lines of cocaine one evening, it’s still dangerous for her to drive the kids to school the next day, addiction therapist Sarah Graham pointed out on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour recently.

The key effect of taking most drugs in excess, including alcohol, is to raise blood pressure, which can be disastrous for the heart and lungs. ‘Young people need to understand that the damage starts early. Binge drinking, and taking drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines and ecstasy, isn’t just about getting out of your head on a Saturday night: it’s about the risk of ending up in a stroke unit, unable to speak and wearing nappies,’ says Dr Anthony Rudd, consultant stroke physician at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in London.

Dr Lord says that more alcohol-related liver problems are appearing in younger people. ‘Traditionally, cirrhotic liver damage hasn’t shown up until the late 40s. Today people in their 20s are getting to a point of no return, where the liver is already functioning so badly that even if they stop drinking it continues to destroy itself. Ultimately, it’s fatal.’ 

There are many other potential side effects of chemical dependency. Releasing inhibitions means you’re more likely to have unprotected sex, and pregnant women affect their babies via the placenta: ‘Whatever Mum consumes, the baby does too,’ reminds Dr Lord. Most drugs and alcohol also inhibit your absorption of nutrients from food. The form of cannabis called skunk is now cultivated to produce more of the active ingredient and contributes to causing psychosis and schizophrenia. ‘There’s a lot of evidence that, in young adolescents with a genetic vulnerability to schizophrenia, smoking skunk can make the difference to whether you get it or not, and can certainly advance the onset,’ says Dr Lord.

So is there anything good to say about drugs and alcohol? ‘For non-addicts, a glass of good red wine with dinner helps you relax and may protect against heart disease,’ says Dr Lord. ‘But healthwise there’s nothing to recommend other drugs in common usage.’

PS As a former alcoholic and pill popper myself, I can tell you that life really is wonderful without drink and drugs.

health notes

When you have six impossible things…
to do before breakfast (to misquote Alice’s White Queen), try a few drops of Take Time flower essence by Light Heart Essences, breathe slowly for a minute and begin again. £9.25 for 30ml, Victoria Health, tel: 0800 3898 195;


Rebounding into fitness
Roz Sullivan, 24, was hit by a car ten years ago and has severe brain damage. She swims, walks a little and works out with weights, but Roz had muscle weakness and fluid retention and was at risk of loss of bone density. Her mother Rachel ordered a Trimilin Rebounder Med (mini-trampoline) after reading fitness expert Yinka Thomas’s recommendation in this column. Three months later Rachel reports that no other exercise has been as effective. ‘Roz can work out from a sitting position. Her leg muscles are firmer, fluid has diminished and her stamina has improved.’ Trimilin Rebounder Med, £129 plus £4.85 postage, tel: 020 8248 8876,

health notes

Website of the week

With research now showing that walking half an hour daily is the best way to prevent bowel cancer, and a glorious prospect of crunching through flame-coloured drifts of autumn leaves ahead of us, may I suggest joining the Ramblers’ Association? Single membership is £27 annually, joint is £36. It’s a bargain!


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