Alcohol more dangerous than heroin? Should we be warning our teens more stringently about alcohol?

A surprising study from London has found that alcohol is MORE dangerous than illegal drugs like heroin or crack cocaine.

From The Associated Press: (For the quick read, just look at the bold.)

“British experts evaluated substances including alcohol, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and marijuana, ranking them based on how destructive they are to the individual who takes them and to society as a whole.”

“Researchers analyzed how addictive a drug is and how it harms the human body, in addition to other criteria like environmental damage caused by the drug, its role in breaking up families and its economic costs, such as health care, social services, and prison.”

“Heroin, crack cocaine and methamphetamine, or crystal meth, were the most lethal to individuals. When considering their wider social effects, alcohol, heroin and crack cocaine were the deadliest. But overall, alcohol outranked all other substances, followed by heroin and crack cocaine. Marijuana, ecstasy and LSD scored far lower.”

“The study was paid for by Britain’s Centre for Crime and Justice Studies and was published online Monday in the medical journal, Lancet.”

“Experts said alcohol scored so high because it is so widely used and has devastating consequences not only for drinkers but for those around them.”

“ ‘Just think about what happens (with alcohol) at every football game,’ said Wim van den Brink, a professor of psychiatry and addiction at the University of Amsterdam. He was not linked to the study and co-authored a commentary in the Lancet.”

“When drunk in excess, alcohol damages nearly all organ systems. It is also connected to higher death rates and is involved in a greater percentage of crime than most other drugs, including heroin.”

Clearly because alcohol is legal it doesn’t have the same stigma that the other “hard” drugs have.  So when you talk to your teens about drug use, do you warn as harshly about alcohol as crack, meth or heroin? (I think once teens head to college, many parents accept they are going to drink and hope they don’t drink and drive. I don’t think parents expect them to start shooting up smack and would probably perceive that as a worse situation.)

Should countries reclassify alcohol? Should it be illegal again? Should they make it more expensive to buy? (I see moonshine stills popping up all over Athens!) Should there be more education about the impact of alcohol has on your body? Do we need to send “Super Size Me” filmmaker and guinea pig Morgan Spurlock out to make a documentary about the dangers of drinking? Would that make an impression on kids (and adults)? Would this study make an impression on your teens?

33 comments Add your comment

Huh?

November 1st, 2010
12:25 pm

“A surprising study from London has found that alcohol is MORE dangerous than illegal drugs like heroin or crack cocaine.”

London is just trying to cover for Mick Jagger and Kieth Richards.

Sanity Time

November 1st, 2010
12:26 pm

We tried alcohol prohibition, had huge increases in violence and death and finally came to our senses. Now we allow its consumption and the problems generally remain with the user as it should be. Prohibition never works. People will consume something because they want to, and will stop because they CHOOSE to, not because they are forced to.

And yet here we see a study that says that alcohol is as bad as heroin and yet heroin, LSD, marijuana and others are still illegal. The rampant crime problems with these drugs are all the result of their illegality and not their use. Trillions of dollars are wasted fighting the failed war on drugs and yet alcohol was wisely made legal after its failed prohibition farce. Despite its near universal availability the problems with alcohol remain isolated and best of all controllable as folks can seek help without criminal prosecution, etc.

The question should not be should we stupidly make alcohol illegal again, but rather WHY are all the drugs with similar or FAR LESS abuse and harm potential STILL ILLEGAL???

Mrs. G

November 1st, 2010
12:30 pm

I personally think that more education about the impact that alcohol has on the body would be great, but I’m not sure that it would actually deter kids once they’re at college parties with their friends. It may not be anything that they would pay attention to until they were much older, but at least they would be informed. I don’t remember learning anything about the effects of alcohol (on my body); the focus was always on not drinking and driving.

I don’t think that making alcohol illegal again would make sense, nor would it work.

I actually think that Morgan Spurlock’s show, 30 Days, has a binge drinking eposide (he isn’t the binge drinker in it, though; someone else is). I haven’t seen it, but I think it’s on our DVR.

I didn’t drink until I turned 21…my friends did, but I chose not to. I was terrified of my parents finding out and I felt that the best way to prevent that was to not drink at all. I was always happy to be the DD for my friends. Also, I did ask my parents for a drink once (when I was 17 or so) – rather than pour me a glass of wine or give me a beer, they gave me a glass of straight vodka. I was so disgusted that I didn’t want to drink for a long time after that. I don’t know if that would work for all teens, but it certainly worked on me!

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Metro Coach

November 1st, 2010
12:51 pm

It says in the study that alcohol is considered more dangerous because it is more widely used. It doesn’t actually say alcohol is more dangerous than heroin.

DB

November 1st, 2010
1:21 pm

I think the issue here is the fact that there are more effects demonstrated from overuse of alcohol simply because there is more alcohol use than there is, say, LSD use.

Take 100 people. Assume 20 of them overuse alcohol. Assume one of them use LSD. Does it mean that alcohol is 20 times more dangerous than LSD? No. A few drinks and a hangover the next morning probably isn’t going to cause permanent harm. However, the human body reacts very differently to LSD, and while there are no documented cases of LSD overdose fatality, there are plenty of documented instances of people going on LSD “trips” and never coming back to normal, being prone to psychotic breaks, delustions and paranoia. And by itself, heroin is seldom fatal. It’s the impurities in the drugs that often cause reactions, or the fact that the drugs are used in conjunction with other drugs (including alcohol) which causes idiopathic reactions in sensitive individuals.

Interestingly, though, I think that people who take LSD and other “hard-core” drugs take them KNOWING that they are going to be altered for a while — and tend to avoid activities that would require them to work through that altered state. With alcohol, though, there is a lot of denial that the person who is drinking is altered. “I can handle my liquor” is an often-empty boast you hear. As a result, they often find themselves in situations (such as DUI) where the alcohol has a negative effect on them and the people around them.

Young people MUST be educated as to the effects of alcohol on the body and perception. Interestingly, cirrhosis of the liver has been declining in the last 10-15 years. But most interesting is the fact that motor vehicle deaths are the leading cause of death for young people 16-24, and of those deaths, alcohol is a factor in 35-40% of the accidents, either by the victim, or by someone other than the victim that caused the accident. As I have often told my kids — “I will support you and stand by you through just about anything. But get a DUI, and I’ll put you in jail myself. There is no excuse for being STUPID.”

Sanity Time

November 1st, 2010
1:36 pm

Education, societal pressure, personal responsibility, strong family ties, sensible and responsible use, etc. have always been more effective at managing the dangerous effects of all of these poisons than laws, punishment, or government controls.

Everyone always wants to talk about the symptoms (alcohol abuse, drug use, etc.) rather than talking about why so many people dislike THIS REALITY so much that they wish to alter it with these substances.

Certainly making someone’s reality worse by locking them up for doing something that only harms their person and nobody else’s (no, I am not including driving under the influence, etc. just the use itself) is not the answer and it is high time we demand that our overlords restore some freedom and sanity to the issue. Hopefully California will begin the process with their vote tomorrow to legalize marijuana.

reebok

November 1st, 2010
1:43 pm

That does it! I’m switching from Pinot Grigio to Crack!

cane

November 1st, 2010
1:45 pm

This report is no surprise to me. How many times have you heard that someone smoked a joint and then beat their wife? None for me, but ask about alcohol and I would content that most domestic violence is alcohol related.

I tell my kids that alcohol is extremely dangerous and the fact that it is legal while these others aren’t is a quirk of history and no because they are more dangerous.

Sanity Time

November 1st, 2010
2:11 pm

Let’s remember a couple of other things about the so called “hard drugs.” People have been smoking or using extracts from the opium poppy for centuries. Yes, the potential for abuse has always been there, but not until the British used the opium trade as a mechanism for enslaving the Chinese were there any serious issues. So long as the product is legal, it is freely traded and used in moderation or for strictly medicinal uses. Heroin was developed during the second war of secession (aka the incorrectly named Civil War) as a “less addictive” pain reliever than morphine. So much for that. Being a concentrated form of the poppy extract, when drug prohibition began in earnest around the beginning of the 20th century, concentrated drugs became favored as they were easier to smuggle and delivered more profit for the quantity (and also more potency). Crack evolved in a similar manner as did even cocaine. The native people’s of Peru continue to chew the coca leaf as part of their culture and to address the metabolism depressing effects of the high altitude of the Andes mountains. Even wiskey and other hard liquors became the preferred illegal liquors during prohibition despite their minimal use prior to prohibition as compared to beer and wine. Even the coctail was the result of the bootleggers and rum runners need for a more conentrated product combined with the female desire for a better tasting drink.

Prohibition causes so many other problems. You cannot ever successfully legislate personal choice. The consequences are always a disaster.

Issues with alcohol use can be dealt with in the open as there is social stigma but not criminal. That is how all drugs should be handled.

JASon

November 1st, 2010
2:11 pm

Cool! I am pouring out my alcohol right now, and gonna try heroin. Thanks for this article!

cane

November 1st, 2010
2:30 pm

DB,

Your assumption that alcohol is more dangerous because more people use it is NOT what the report says. Rather it’s more dangerous for a single individual to use alcohol than other drugs. If what you say were the case then the report would not have much value.

FCM

November 1st, 2010
2:38 pm

@ Huh? The article supports your stance: But experts said it would be impractical and incorrect to outlaw alcohol.

“We cannot return to the days of prohibition,” said Leslie King, an adviser to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and one of the study’s authors. “Alcohol is too embedded in our culture and it won’t go away.”

Additionally it clearly states that legality of a substance has more to do with taxation (or it’s ability to generate revenue for the gov’t) than it does on science.

I mentioned I did a paper in college advocating legalizing certain substances. This article supports my findings from that time and that was 1990 or 1991.

ALTHOUGH at no time have I ever advocated or found support for prohibition.

I also think the best thing Barnes or Deale could do after they are sworn in, is let the people vote on Sunday sales!!!

Kevin H

November 1st, 2010
2:55 pm

I would tell my kids that this study is wrong considering that this comes from a country that has chronic alcohol problems as numerous soccer matches attended by inebriated fans will attest to.

Who pays for this dribble??

North Avenue Ned

November 1st, 2010
2:57 pm

The last time I looked, alcohol was still legal. When heroin and cocaine are made legal, check back with me.

cane

November 1st, 2010
3:12 pm

N. Ave Ned,

Legality is not a gauge on a substance’s danger (which was the point of the report). But I might be checking back with you in November as California has on the ballot a initiative to legalize pot.

Mike

November 1st, 2010
3:14 pm

The study says nothing of the sort. Please learn to read scientific literature before making assertions like this. The study finds that the cumulative individual and societal consequences from alcohol are greater the combined effects of any other drug. This is not because alcohol, in and of itself, is more dangerous than ketamine or LCD, but rather because it is more widely available, consequently more widely used, consequently more widely abused. Were currently prohibited drugs made legal, we would see many some other drug jump rather quickly to the head of any such list.

But, to answer your question, were I dumb as an empty six-pack and inclined to take this study literally, I would begin teaching my children how to obtain sufficient quantities of hallucinogenic mushrooms and then how to prepare and use them, because such mushrooms have absolutely no societal effect and only a marginal individual effect, according to the study. I might teach them that LCD and ketamine are okay, but that they should wait longer before experimenting with those drugs, but that they should never, and I mean never, have a beer at a football game or a nice glass of wine with dinner because they will immediately burst into flames and die, but only after seriously maiming and killing many of those around them.

Metro Coach

November 1st, 2010
3:20 pm

cane, that initiative is going to die a quick and painless death. It figures this article would bring out the “Legalize Drugs” crazies.

penguinmom

November 1st, 2010
3:25 pm

@cane – the article specifically states that other drugs are more lethal to the Individual. Alcohol is more harmful to society overall based on abuse, divorce and health care costs.

This study was looking at the affect of drugs on society as a whole. It makes a lot of sense that alcohol affects society as a whole more than the other drugs because it is more widely used. Also, since some of the other drugs are more lethal to the individuals taking them, they are removed from the social equation pretty quickly. If you die after your 3rd use of a drug, it’s unlikely that it will cause you to get divorced or abuse your spouse/children or any of those other things because you will be dead.

I do think we tend to turn too much of a blind eye to alcohol use just because it is so prevalent. Teens see ads showing people having a good time while drinking, not ads showing people puking or being abusive or anything that would deter them. Even the drunk driving ads tend to focus on the fact that you will get caught not on the fact that you could kill someone. I think we should increase the penalties for providing alcohol to underage people… yes even those who are in college. Since it is illegal to drink before you are 21, there should be significant penalties to go with it in order to deter it. Yes, there will be upset parents and teens but, once the reality of the penalties sets in, everyone will just realize they have to toe the line.

I often explain to my children that drinking alcohol reduces your ability to think things through well which causes you to act stupidly. I also point out ‘weekend prisoners’ picking up trash along the roadway and comment that many of them probably were drunk drivers. My kids make the connection that they don’t want to be in that position.

DB

November 1st, 2010
4:27 pm

@cane: That was NOT my assumption. In fact, my observation was completely opposite – it’s the prevalence of alcohol use that was contributing to the perception, not the actual toxicity.

DB

November 1st, 2010
4:29 pm

Hijacking the thread here: I had the most bizzare experience with a trick-or-treater last night. We don’t get many t-or-t’ers because we’re on a hill at the end of a road off the main neighborhood drag. I had gone back into the kitchen, and after a few minutes, I heard this little voice from the front hall: “Hey?! Is anyone here?! Trick or treat!” I went flying into the front hall, one step ahead of an eager-to-escape dog, to find two kids standing IN the the hall, looking up the stairs, with the door wide open. They said, “Hey, trick-or-treat!” I asked them why they didn’t use the doorbell, and they said, ‘your light was on and the door wasn’t locked’. Then the dog gets excited and starts to sniff the kid, and the kid yells, “Get that dog away from me, I don’t like dogs!” At which point, I told him, sharply, that if he doesn’t like dogs, he shouldn’t be barging into people’s houses without their permission – the dog lives there, he doesn’t. I had the bowl of candy and picked out a piece, and he looks into the bowl and says, “Oh, you only have Reeses Cups? Gross.” Uh, yeah. Then he reaches past me and grabs a HANDFUL — 4 or 5! — and starts to stuff them in his bag. At that point, I reached out, grabbed his hand, and said, “One piece each, please.” Gave his sister a piece, and then followed them down to where their FATHER was waiting on the street, and nicely asked the father to please speak to his children about not walking into people’s houses uninvited. I DIDN’T KNOW THESE KIDS OR THE FATHER — WTF?!?! What kind of parent lets their kids barge into other people’s houses uninvited?! The father shrugged and said, “Well, it’s Halloween, what do you expect?”

I was completely speechless . . . and those who know me, know that doesn’t happen often!

FCM

November 1st, 2010
4:51 pm

@DB…if it had been small toddler sized kid walking in I could see it….My own children as todlers had a hard time with the “when they open the door you STAY ON THE PORCH” thinking. They would come back out.

Now the oldest did go into “some guys house” when she was in Kindergarten…at least that is how it looked to me standing in the middle of the driveway–where I could see her and see a male answer the dawer. I was like um….HOLD IT!!!!! I said “Susie get back here! We don’t go in people’s houses!” Now keep in mind the male had never left the doorway and I could still see my daughter in the window. The male said “It’s ok she wants to meet my wife, I am a teacher in the room next to Susie’s at school!” To my knowledge that is the only house she felt was ok to walk in…of course I stayed a lot closer to her after that too.

Actually this year same child (now 10) went to about 8 houses that I could see from my driveway with her sister. They did a great job and came right back to me.

DB

November 1st, 2010
4:57 pm

@FCM: These were NOT toddlers — probably 6/7/8 range.The dad was on the street, but nowhere near the door, probably 150 feet away. And I hadn’t opened the door — THEY opened the door and just waltzed in like they owned the place!

FCM

November 1st, 2010
5:03 pm

sounds like next year you should hand out etiquette pamphlets. ;) Dad should have told them not to go in.

We had one that was maybe 4 come up with her sister or somebody about 7. She said “trick or treat” real quiet like. I told her to take some candy and she said thank you. The Dad said “You have to say trick or treat Jill”. I couldn’t see the Dad but I told him: She did great Dad she even said thank you! More than half the kids tonight didn’t say thank you. I heard him laugh.

TechMom

November 1st, 2010
5:25 pm

@DB – wow! and the Dad defended them nonetheless. And one day when the cops show up at the house letting him know his precious little children went for a joy ride in someone else’s car, he’ll say, “well they did leave the car in the driveway!”

TechMom

November 1st, 2010
5:34 pm

I read this article this morning and it reminded me of the kinds of statements that are made in the books Freakonomics & SuperFreakonomics. Basically when you apply economic theories (think statistics not the stockmarket) to every day things, you come up with interesting explanations and observations. Example: it’s safer to drive drunk than walk drunk. Because statistically speaking more people die per mile walking drunk than driving drunk. Of course the social implications are that normally the drunk walkers only seriously injure themselves whereas drunk drivers who end up in an accident usually hurt others. Statistically it also much safer to allow your kid to take the NY Subway versus spending a weekend with friends or family members (kids are much more likely to be abused, abducted or molested by someone they know and they’re more likely to get hurt in a car accident than a subway accident). But it’s about sensationalism. What gets our attention (the young guy who OD’d on crack or the the loner down the street who drank himself to death after running off his family over the years due to his drinking problem)?

deidre_NC

November 1st, 2010
10:03 pm

@sanity time…i couldnt have said it better.

dave rosier

November 1st, 2010
10:33 pm

WHEN WILL AMERICA BECOME FREE AGAIN AND WE ARE NOT ALL HELD TO THE EXACT SAME STANDARD.. I HAVE DRIVEN DRUNK THOUSANDS OF TIMES SINCE I WAS TOO YOUNG TO EVEN DRIVE WITH NO PROBLEMS.. BUT WE ALL HAVE TO BE TREATED THE SAME NO MATTER WHAT OUR INTELLECTUAL CAPABILITIES ARE.. YOU ARE ALL TOOLS OF GOVERNMENT.. “GET CAUGHT DRINKIN N DRIVN I WILL THROW YOU IN JAIL MYSELF” SURE BET YOU TAUGHT YOUR KIDS TO THINK FOR THEMSELVES TOO, HUH BIG GUY?

Sam the Sham

November 1st, 2010
11:09 pm

Read the report. It states that these deadly drugs don’t have the overall impact on society as a whole as alcohol. That is simply because THEY ARE ILLEGAL. Their impacts on the individual is much more devastating than alcohol. If we ever legalize this poison it will be the end of our civilization. Please bring back republican rational thinking so this debate can be put to sleep.

DB

November 2nd, 2010
1:21 am

@dave rosier: You may have the freedom to drive drunk, but your freedom to drive drunk stops just short of your car running into my child after you’ve knocked back a few at the bar and proudly proclaim that you, as the exception to every single law of physics, can drive impaired.

You selfish prick — drive drunk, and you take away that much-vaunted freedom from every single other person on the road who is thus endangered by your stupidity. I had two friends in high school who were killed by a drunk driver who couldn’t tell the median from the highway and crashed head-first into their car as they were coming home from a concert. I had another friend who spent the last six years of her life in a wheelchair because some idiot woman had one too many margaritas. And a former colleague is in prison right now serving her sentence for vehicular homicide after a few too many celebration drinks that ended up with her killing a mother and young child. Her family was bankrupted by the legal fees and fines. Where is their “freedom” to enjoy living their lives? GONE — because of piss-poor choices in drinking and driving.

My kids can think for themselves quite nicely, thank you very much, and I am proud of the good decisions they have made over the years. However, they are still learning that actions have consequences, and as a parent, it is my job to make sure they have a clear understanding of those consequences. Choosing to pickle your brain with alcohol or other drugs and then operate heavy machinery is not a good decision in anyone’s book.

anon

November 2nd, 2010
1:38 am

Sanity Time speaks so I don’t have to. End the useless and expensive war on drugs, and give drug addicts the freedom they need to get clean and clear of their addiction without fear of incarceration for possession and use.

Sanity Time

November 2nd, 2010
9:14 am

Clearly the study shows bias in the way it measures the “impact” of hard drugs on the rest of society. While hard drugs have the potential to cause serious harm to the user, the PROHIBITION of these drugs has cause significant harm to the rest of society. The hight prices caused by prohibition lead to crime to afford the drugs, crime to protect the sales territories, crime to settle conflicts (that in the legal market are settled in court, corruption of the police, courts, and others. As well, trillions of dollars are wasted paying police, the courts, the prison system, etc. to deal with folks who according to the study are generally only harming themselves.

The bottom line is that any substance that alters reality generally does so by altering the chemical composition of the body and generally not in a good way. Chemical substances have been used for religious purposes, ceremonial purposes, recreational purposes, and have also become unfortunately the focus of some people’s addictions. The impact that these substances have had on others (family and friends) or society (violence, destructive behavior) have all been the result not of the drugs themselves, but how they have been used and how they have been treated by society and others. When we set up taboos rather than acceptance and education on responsible use, we foster curiosity and irresponsible behavior in the shadows of the very social network that could be providing the kind of guidance and support to avoid problems. Laws that inherently create lucrative black markets only worsen the problem by providing an incentive to many to promote the use of these substances. As an example, marijuana use among 16 year olds in Amsterdam is less than use in the US simply because the drug is sold openly, can be purchased at age 16, and is not seen as a taboo, but rather something to be used in a responsible, controlled environment.

Hopefully this study will not give rise to a new wave of Prohibitionism. Remember, it was the same Progressive movement around the turn of the 20th century that gave us the horrible Federal Reserve, the income tax, the direct election of US senators and Prohibition. As the movement towards more personal freedom and less government intrusion into our lives grows, lets hope it can stave off the irresistible urge that some in our society have to control the behavior of others.

JJ

November 2nd, 2010
9:15 am

I’d rather smoke a joint than drink alcohol.