With more than 3 million deaths each year linked to alcohol consumption, alcohol has been named the most dangerous drug on the market.
Despite the popular belief that illicit recreational drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine cause the most harm to society — which is fuelled in part by the war on drugs — one UK study indicates that alcohol actually surpasses all others as the most dangerous drug. It is no surprise, as the negative effects of alcohol are well-documented. However, they are easily ignored and significantly downplayed.
The study was published in the reputable Lancet medical journal and undertaken by the UK’s former government drugs adviser, David Nutt along with other leading drug specialists on behalf of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs. Researchers reviewed several recreational drugs and gave them each a score based on the harm they caused to users and the harm caused to others. According to their findings the most harmful drugs to users were heroin, crack cocaine, and methamphetamine. The drugs that caused the most harm to others were alcohol, heroin, and crack cocaine.
When the two part scores were combined alcohol came out on top as causing significantly more harm in society overall. The researchers argue that if the level of harm is taken seriously into account in the classification of drugs, alcohol should be treated as a class A drug.
Of course, critics of the research assert that if heroin and crack cocaine were legal and there was greater widespread use, these drugs would prove to be more dangerous than alcohol. However, the reality is that the current levels of alcohol abuse cause the most harm to society, yet the dangerous effects of alcohol use are rarely given the spotlight.
Another more recent study published in Scientific Reports in January 2015 also found that the effects of alcohol fall in the “high risk” category. The study analysed several licit and illicit recreational drugs to shed light on which are most harmful. According to their findings, alcohol, nicotine, heroin, and cocaine fall into the “high risk” category. However, when the rankings are controlled for actual population consumption alcohol is the only drug that remains in the “high risk” category.
This means that more and more research is pointing to the fact that the effects of alcohol are more harmful than we like to acknowledge.
Effects of Alcohol Abuse: Mortality, Disease and Violence
When you look at the statistics, declaring alcohol as the most dangerous drug does not seem too far-fetched. Alcohol kills more people worldwide than HIV, AIDS, violence and tuberculosis combined — plus alcohol use is also linked to the latter conditions. According to the World Health Organisation’s most recent report, the harmful use of alcohol causes 3.3 million deaths each year worldwide. The mortality rate in young people due to alcohol use is especially high with 25% of all deaths amongst people aged 20-39 attributed to alcohol. For teens aged 15-24 alcohol is a factor in all three leading causes of death: accidents, homicides, and suicides.In the United States alone almost 30 people die each day in drunk driving crashes and drunk driving accounts for more than 10,000 deaths each year. Over half of all the children who die in alcohol-related traffic accidents were riding in the car with an alcohol-impaired driver. Alcohol impaired driving accounts for 31% of motor vehicle deaths, while other drugs such as cocaine and marijuana are implicated in around 18% of deaths. And, these other drugs are often used in combination with alcohol.
Beyond mortality, alcohol affects the day to day lives of many through disease and injury. Alcoholism is one of the most well-known detrimental effects of alcohol abuse, but the media does little to acknowledge the realities faced by those addicted to alcohol.
Alcohol advertisements encourage drinking behaviours that lead to dependence such as daily drinking, binge drinking, and also proliferate the idea that alcohol is a requirement for a good time. For those who are susceptible to, or already suffering from addiction this type of marketing is dangerous and also undermines their experience while feeding the denial that they do not have a problem.
Alcohol misuse can also lead to more than 200 diseases and cause injuries resulting in disability, in addition to alcohol dependence. For those struggling with alcohol addiction, the disease not only impacts their own health — as it could cause liver cirrhosis, some forms of cancer and cardiovascular diseases, amongst many other physical and mental health problems — but the effects of alcohol dependence reach much further than the individual and into their families and the public as well.
Addiction is a family disease and will impact all members of the family. It can cause a breakdown in relationships, depression, anxiety, shame, and guilt within families. Alcohol use is also a factor in the majority of domestic violence cases. The violent effects of alcohol misuse extend beyond the family as well.
In the UK, as many as half of all violent crimes involve alcohol as a factor. Further, alcohol is implicated in public violence, domestic violence including child and elder abuse, sexual assault, and self-directed violence including committing suicide.
What can be Done to Curb the Effects of Alcohol?
The abuse of all harmful substances is cause for concern, however as alcohol is the widest used and abused substance, which currently contributes to the greatest amount of individual and societal harm, a multi-pronged campaign would be the best. The approach should lead with education about the effects of addiction and the serious enforcement of an international alcohol policy and regulation of alcohol. The media’s portrayal of alcohol use and abuse can also be used to reduce the harm of alcohol consumption on society.Of course, alcohol use is also a culturally engrained pastime around the world, and many people will use alcohol occasionally and responsibly without experiencing any negative consequences. However, for many others, alcohol contributes to significant problems in their life — providing leading and effective treatment options, like The Cabin Chiang Mai’s drug and alcohol rehab in Thailand, should also be a crucial part of this campaign to minimise these harmful effects.
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction, recovery is possible and addiction treatment is the first step in reversing the negative effects of alcohol in your life.