The Harm of Alcohol

Discover why alcohol is the most harmful drug of all, when looking at the harm it is doing to drinkers, their friends, families and society in general.

A recent study in the Lancet, Drug harms in the UK: a multicriteria decision analysis, co-authored by David Nutt, says alcohol is the most harmful drug to society. Alcohol bests heroin and crack cocaine when it is assessed for its harm to the individual and society as a whole.

Studies Conducted on Harmfulness of Drugs

Experts from the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs compared social, psychological, and physical problems caused by drugs, and came to the conclusion that alcohol is the most harmful overall.

Measuring the Harm of Alcohol

Using a new scale to measure the harm caused by substances, alcohol received a score of 72 out of 100. Nineteen other drugs were measured in the study, which used 16 criteria. Of the 16 criteria, nine relate to the effects drugs have on the individual, and seven on the harm to others.

By these scales, alcohol is three times as harmful as tobacco, heroin or cocaine.

Heroin, crack cocaine and methamphetamine, respectively, were the most harmful drugs to individuals, the study says, while alcohol, heroin and crack cocaine, respectively, were the most harmful to others. Overall, alcohol was the most harmful drug, heroin 2nd and crack cocaine 3rd.

Alcohol Should be a Societal Priority

Researchers said that the study also confirms other studies saying that “aggressively targeting alcohol harms is a valid and necessary public health strategy.”

One of the co-authors of the article is David Nutt, who was the target of some controversy when he published an article claiming that the riding a horse was more dangerous then using ecstasy. He did apologize later to anyone he might of offended, but claimed to be making a point that reflects a societal approach that does not balance the relative risk against the harms. Statistically, he, I would assume, is accurate.

Alcohol a Trigger for Drugs in Many Cases

This study is actually not much of a surprise to counselors in drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities where they see on average 70 percent of clients come for the treatment of alcohol. Of the 30 percent that do come for drugs, you usually find a significant number of them also have serious issues with alcohol, if alcohol isn’t actually the trigger that leads to other drugs.