The media attention given to heroin abuse has led to a misconception within the public. Most people now believe that heroin addiction is far more serious than alcoholism. This is a myth. When the overall harm caused to society is considered it has been found that alcohol is far more of a danger than heroin or crack. This claim has important implications because it means that legal drugs are causing more problems than illegal ones.
Evidence that alcohol is more dangerous than heroin has been supplied by a recent study in the UK. Researchers used a number of criteria to determine the potential damage of different drugs including alcohol – it included such things as damage to health and problems with relationships. Each drug was given a danger score out of 100. Alcohol scored the highest with a danger of 72; heroin scored 55 and crack cocaine scored 54 – cannabis only scored 20.
There are a number of reasons for why heroin addiction is viewed more seriously than alcohol addiction including:
* Alcohol is legal in most parts of the world while heroin is illegal. The fact that it is legal means that many people do not even consider it to be a recreational drug.
* Alcohol has been an accepted part of western culture for centuries. There are even times of the year, such as the holiday season, when inebriation is considered the norm.
* Alcohol can be bought legally in shops and bars. The fact that it is so freely available adds to its legitimacy.
* Consumption of alcohol is usually shown in a positive light in TV and film while heroin use is almost always shown in a negative light.
* There is a demand for books and films dealing with the seediness of heroin addiction. This type of addict is usually depicted as desperate and dangerous – the common picture of an alcoholic is somebody who is mostly just making their own life miserable.
* The companies that make alcoholic drinks invest a great deal of money in making their product appear acceptable to the general public.
* There is a myth that alcohol abuse and creativity are closely related.
* People have to break the law in order to maintain a heroin habit. The criminality of their actions makes their addiction appear more serious to members of the general public.
Not only is the idea that heroin is a more serious addiction than alcoholism wrong, but it can also be harmful. The dangers of thinking this way include:
* Alcoholics can use this myth to justify their own excesses. They can believe that what they are doing is less harmful than drug abuse and therefore acceptable.
* Alcoholism involves less of a stigma than heroin addiction. In some communities heavy drinking is considered to be the norm and relatively harmless.
* The public concern about heroin abuse may mean that government funds are disproportionately assigned for this instead of programs designed to tackle alcoholism. There can be more pressure on governments to tackle drug problems like heroin because it is viewed by the public as being more serious.
Alcohol abuse is a serious problem for the individual, their family and friends, and society as a whole. The dangers of this type of behavior include:
* Alcohol works as a toxin in the body and it can damage every organ. Those who chronically drink too much can develop alcohol liver disease or many other health problems.
* Not only is excessive alcohol intake bad for the body, but it can also lead to mental health problems such as depression. Those who fall into addiction enter a world of mental despair.
* Alcohol is a depressant and this means that it induces the symptoms of depression. The individual may respond to their low mood by drinking even more so that they end up in a vicious circle of increasing despair.
* Alcohol and suicide are closely related. It is estimated that 18% of problem drinkers will eventually take their own life – this is as much as 120 times the risk of the general population.
* Excessive drinking is also closely related to all types of violence – including domestic violence. When people are inebriated they become capable of committing acts that they would not even consider while sober.
* It can interfere with the ability of the individual to perform well in work. Some people become unemployable and may need to resort to crime in order to maintain their drinking habit.
* Alcoholics can act as a tyrant in their own home. They not only make their own life miserable but also affect the happiness of those around them.
* People who are suffering from this type of addiction will often suffer from financial hardship.
* Binge drinking is popular in most western countries – this is where people drink an excessive amount in a short period of time. This pattern of drinking can easily lead to alcohol poisoning and puts people more at risk of having accidents.
* Excessive consumption of alcohol can lead to blackouts where the individual is unable to remember a period of time when they were intoxicated. These episodes of amnesia can be extremely upsetting – there have even been incidents where people have been accused of murder during a period of time they are unable to remember.
* If people become trapped in addiction it means that they fail to make the most of their potential. The life of an addict is extremely limited.
* Alcohol abuse increases the likelihood that people will experiment with illegal drugs – including heroin.
* Some communities can be ravaged by alcoholism. This means that even if the individual manages to get out of the community without becoming an alcoholic they will still have been disadvantaged by belonging to it.
* Those who abuse alcohol are more willing to take dangerous risks and act impulsively. This means that they are more likely to engage in behavior such as drink driving.
The evidence that alcohol is more dangerous heroin has led to calls for changes to the drug classification system in countries like the UK. The argument is that by classifying drugs like heroin as more dangerous than alcohol it is exacerbating problems in society. Some have even called for the drug classification system to be scrapped completely so that more attention can be given to tackling alcoholism. It seems unlikely that such changes will occur in the immediate future. Public concern continues to be more focused on the dangers of illegal drugs.