Study: Alcohol Deadlier Than Heroin, Crack

Alcohol is more dangerous than illegal drugs like heroin and crack cocaine, according to a new study.
British experts evaluated substances including alcohol, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and marijuana, and ranked them on how destructive they are to the individual who takes them and to society as a whole, the Associated Press reports.

The analysis took into consideration how addictive a drug is and how it harms the human body. It also looked at 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. The study comes at a time when drinking in the U.S. has reached a 25-year high, according to a Gallup poll released in August.
The poll found that number of adults in the United States who drink alcohol has spiked to 67 percent, a modest increase over last year and the highest rate on record since 1985.

Though wine has gained popularity points and beer has lost some, a tall, frosty glass of barley and hops is still the favorite alcoholic beverage, with wine coming in second and liquor third.

Professor David Nutt, author of the Lancet study, told the BBC alcohol is the most dangerous drug because it's also the most widely used.

"Crack cocaine is more addictive than alcohol but because alcohol is so widely used there are hundreds of thousands of people who crave alcohol every day, and those people will go to extraordinary lengths to get it," he said.

Others agreed.

"Just think about what happens (with alcohol) at every football game," Wim van den Brink, a professor of psychiatry and addiction at the University of Amsterdam, told the AP.

"What governments decide is illegal is not always based on science," he said, adding that revenue and taxation, like those garnered from the alcohol and tobacco industries, may influence decisions about which substances to regulate or outlaw.

"Drugs that are legal cause at least as much damage, if not more, than drugs that are illicit," said van den Brink, who was not linked to the study, but co-authored a commentary in the Lancet.

When used 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.

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