Dangers of Substance Abuse

Small Farm and Gardening Safety and Health Series
Agriculture and Natural Resources
S. Dee Jepsen, Associate Professor and State Safety Leader, Agricultural Safety and Health, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Jeffery Suchy, Graduate Student and Lecturer, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Drugs and alcohol can have many detrimental effects on the mind and body. Substance use and abuse can impair alertness and reflexes, which could lead to serious injuries. Farming and gardening activities often involve strenuous work and machinery operation. Therefore, they demand a need for balance and coordination. Drug and alcohol use, even in moderation, can seriously impair the ability to safely complete routine tasks. Unintentional consequences can arise even from the use of legally prescribed drugs when attention to side effect warnings are not followed.


Alcohol is a drug. It depresses the central nervous system. While consuming a cold beer on a hot day may be tempting, it is not wise when work must be completed. With moderate drinking, a person may experience:
• Dizziness.
• Dulling of senses.
• Impaired coordination.
• Impaired reflexes.
• Impaired memory.
• Impaired judgment.
Consumed in large amounts or over a long period of time, alcohol may cause damage to the liver, heart and pancreas. Heavy binge drinking can depress the parts of the brain that control breathing and heart rate, and can cause death. Working while under the influence of alcohol can be especially dangerous when:
• Working in the heat or cold.
◦ Working in the heat with dulled senses can increase the possibility of dehydration.
◦ Dulled senses impair awareness of dangerous changes in body temperature.
• Working with machinery such as tillers or tractors.
◦ Impaired reflexes can increase the possibility of injury when working with equipment with moving parts.
• Working with sharp tools, such as pruning shears.
• Working on a ladder.
◦ Dizziness and impaired coordination can cause serious falls and injuries.

Illegal Drugs

Illegal drugs include marijuana, cocaine, crack cocaine, speed (amphetamines), heroin, LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), PCP (phencyclidine) and many others. They can last for several months in the body and can cause:
• Decreased long- and short-term memory.
• Decreased concentration.
• Distorted senses.
• Impaired perception of time and space.
• Slowed reaction time.
• Temporary blindness.
• Hallucinations.

Prescription and Over-the-Counter Drugs

Even legal, “safe” drugs can have harmful effects if used improperly. For example, prescription or over-the-counter drugs may cause drowsiness. They may have other harmful effects if:
• They are used in combination with another drug.
• The wrong dosage is used.
• Safety precautions are not followed.

Substance Abuse and Job Performance

• Alcohol abuse can affect job performance, with effects lasting up to 14 hours.
• Combining alcohol and other drugs multiplies the effects, which increases the risk of impairment.
• Read warning labels such as “avoid operating heavy equipment” before performing tasks that may present a hazard.
• Drugs and alcohol increase the possibility of accidents.

Getting Help

If alcohol or substance abuse is suspected, tell someone who can help, such as a supervisor or a family member.


• Jepsen, S.D., Michael Wonacott, Peter Ling, and Thomas Bean. Tailgate Safety Training for Landscaping and Horticultural Services: Substance Abuse and Accidents, AEX-192.1.75. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Extension, 2006.

Reviewer: Kent McGuire, CFAES Safety and Health Coordinator, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Ohioline http://ohioline.osu.edu