It’s a common misconception in the UK that alcohol is not really a drug, that it does not fall into the same category as other drugs. The reasons for this are complex but it stems a lot from the fact that drinking alcohol is legal and readily available, whereas other illegal drugs are not.
The most dangerous drug
Alcohol has been proven to be the most dangerous of drugs in the UK by a long way, beating other drugs such as crack cocaine and heroin. David Nutt, the former government drugs adviser, says that if drugs were classified by their harm, alcohol would be classed as a class A drug, the same category as crack cocaine and heroin.
Why is alcohol so dangerous?
Alcohol is primarily so dangerous because not only is it legal but it’s also affordable and very easy to come by. Most homes in the UK have some alcohol in them already and, if not, a shop or off-license is just a few minutes away. There are even alcohol delivery services these days, delivering alcohol rather like you would order a pizza delivery. If we swapped alcohol in this scenario for heroin, you can see how widespread a problem alcohol consumption is in terms of its potential to cause harm to many.
If we compare how many drinkers there are in the UK compared to illegal drug users, the numbers would be millions apart. Globally, one in five people drinks alcohol. A lot less can be said for consuming illegal drugs. You can see, therefore, the threat of harm that this poses not just to the staggering amounts of individual drinkers, but to others as well, whether they are drinkers or not.
In terms of deaths, per 100,000 people, alcohol was the cause of death in 33 people whereas with illicit drugs the number of deaths per 100,000 people was markedly less, at 6.9. If we were to throw in tobacco as a comparison, it would account for over 110 deaths per 100,000 people, three times as many as alcohol. But, it is the harm to others that alcohol causes that makes it more harmful as a drug overall.
How does alcohol harm others?
The harm that alcohol can cause to others has been defined as the adverse effects of another person’s drinking on other people in a range of relationships to the drinker. There’s also direct harm and indirect harm.
Direct harm refers to physical harm that another person may come to as a result of the drinker, for example, if they pick a fight with someone and physically assault them or cause an injury due to their driving under the influence of alcohol. Indirect harm can include things such as a family suffering financially due to one family member’s expenditure on alcohol or even harm caused as the result of a parent not fulfilling simple parenting duties or missing their children’s medical appointments.
Alcohol and the Government
The problem is also exacerbated by the government not necessarily seeing alcohol as a major concern, perhaps focusing more on the perceived ‘real’ drugs. Indeed, drug users are much more likely (ten times more likely in fact) to receive support for their addiction than are alcohol users. The government has not seemingly made the connection between the cheaper prices of alcohol, the higher consumption of it and the harms to society and individuals that have occurred as a result.
Making a change
There are many ways that the government has looked at towards changing this trend of alcohol being the biggest cause of harm compared with other drugs, such as reclassifying some illegal drugs to make their risks greater. However, this does not directly challenge the problems that alcohol causes and the harm it does on a large social scale. In order to achieve this, the government needs to induce radical change. Change, perhaps, as to how alcohol is marketed, sold and taxed as well as educating people as to the severity of the risks that alcohol poses. When all is said and done, there is a lot to be done before the harm that alcohol causes in comparison to harder, illegal drugs, is reduced.