Hundreds of millions of people indulge in one of the most dangerous drugs which is sold right over the counter. When it comes to harm done to other people and the users themselves, not heroin, crack cocaine, methamphetamines, marijuana or even tobacco come close to the health and safety hazards caused by this one depressant.
Drug harms fall into two broad categories: those that affect you, and those that affect others. The personal ones include death, health problems (including mental health), accidents, addiction, relationship breakdown and legal trouble. Harms to other people include violence, financial problems, crime and environmental damage -- both at home and where the drugs are produced.
One rule of thumb is that risks become more serious with repeated use. Take addiction, for example. According to the US National Institute on Drug Abuse, it can take only "a few" uses of a drug to become addicted to it, although the potential for addiction varies between drugs and people. What's interesting is that cannabis is one of the most demonized "drugs" yet there is no evidence of it's addictive nature in human beings.
Perhaps the best guide to the harm comes from the UK's Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs (ISCD), which analysed 20 drugs on 16 criteria. It found the most harmful illicit drug to be heroin, with an overall rating of 55 out of 100, with crack cocaine on 54 (see diagram). LSD and magic mushrooms are among the least harmful, and also carry the lowest risk of dependence.
Another rule of thumb is that mixing drugs amplifies the risks. Taking cocaine with ecstasy or amphetamines, for example, raises the risk of acute toxicity over and above the sum of their parts.
Many factors determine whether you'll become addicted to a drug: your genetic makeup, social history, the drugs your friends take, how much money you make. But the chemical makeup of drugs guarantee that certain drugs are more addictive than others.
5 Reasons Alcohol is Legal
IT'S HEALTH RELATED COSTS ARE HIGHER
Health-related costs for alcohol consumers are eight times greater than those for cannabis consumers, according to an assessment recently published in the British Columbia Mental Health and Addictions Journal. More specifically, the annual cost of alcohol consumption is $165 per user, compared to just $20 per user for cannabis. This should not come as a surprise given the vast amount of research that shows alcohol poses far more -- and more significant -- health problems than any other drug and most drugs combined. There results in more medication, therapy and medical expenses which the health system profits handsomely from.
DEATH IS A GREAT BUSINESS
The official publication of the Scientific Research Society, American Scientist, reported that alcohol is one of the most toxic drugs and using just 10 times what one would use to get the desired effect could lead to death. According to the CDC, hundreds of alcohol overdose deaths occur in the United States each year. Again this leads to increased revenues and funding at the expense of lives.
3. CANCER CLINICS ARE MAKING A KILLING
Alcohol use is associated with a wide variety of cancers, including cancers of the esophagus, stomach, colon, lungs, pancreas, liver and prostate. Researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) have shown that alcohol is a major contributor to cancerand drinking even small amounts of alcohol, as little as one drink, can increase the risk of developing cancer. Alcohol, regardless of its type (i.e. beer, wine, liquor, etc) is a class A1 carcinogen which are confirmed human carcinogens. Alcohol consumption has been causally related with breast cancer for some time. Increasing evidence indicates a stronger association with neoplasms, though the risk is elevated for other types of breast cancers too.
4. IT'S ADDICTIVE NATURE FUELS OTHER ADDICTIVE BEHAVIORS WHICH FUEL THE ECONOMY
Alcohol use can result in significant and potentially fatal physical withdrawal. Those who use alcohol are also much more likely to develop dependence and build tolerance. Because alcohol is legal and often consumed in social settings, alcohol addiction is complicated. But as an addictive agent, it's remarkably simple--and effective. Alcohol's withdrawal syndrome is so severe that it can cause death, and its effects on the brain's reward system cause well-documented and intense craving in heavy drinkers. Alcohol is proven to exacerabate other addictive tendencies such as gambling, smoking, overeating, other drugs and many other physical and psychological dependencies which drive economies worldwide. Research published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, found that 36 percent of hospitalized assaults and 21 percent of all injuries are attributable to alcohol use by the injured person which alone increases overall revenue of hospitals, clinics and many different health professionals.
5. IT CREATES ABUSERS AND PUTS MORE PEOPLE IN PRISON
Once again, it's a business.
Alcohol is a major contributing factor in the prevalence of domestic violence and sexual assault. This is not to say that alcohol causes these problems; rather, its use makes it more likely that an individual prone to such behavior will act on it. For example, a study conducted by the Research Institute on Addictions found that among individuals who were chronic partner abusers, the use of alcohol was associated with significant increases in the daily likelihood of male-to-female physical aggression. Specifically, the odds of abuse were eight times higher on days when men were drinking; the odds of severe abuse were 11 times higher. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) website highlights alcohol as the "most commonly used chemical in crimes of sexual assault" and provides information on an array of other drugs that have been linked to sexual violence. This one drug alone is estimated for at least 12% of all incarcerations.
Marco Torres is a research specialist, writer and consumer advocate for healthy lifestyles. He holds degrees in Public Health and Environmental Science and is a professional speaker on topics such as disease prevention, environmental toxins and health policy.