Alcohol worse than crack, says British study

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Alcohol is worse than heroin, according to a recent study by the British Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs.

The study, conducted by David Nutt, a neuropsychopharmacology professor at the University of Bristol, along with Drs. Leslie King and Lawrence Phillips, ranks the harmful effects of alcohol and other addictive substances out of 100, with 100 being the most harmful and zero being the least. Alcohol was at the top of the list, scoring 72, while heroin and crack are ranked at 55 and 54, respectively.

Alcohol’s high ranking on the “dangerousness” scale doesn’t match the policies of most governments, which take a harsh stance on drugs while keeping alcohol legal. This is because heroin, crack, cocaine, and methamphetamine have been found to be the most deadly substances.  

This study, on the other hand, took into account external effects of alcohol use, factoring in the amount of social and environmental harm caused by each substance. The study suggested that when combined with the effects of harm to others as well  as to the individuals using it, alcohol is a much more dangerous substance than others.

The co-authors suggest in their study, published in the British medical journal Lancet, that governments should begin “aggressively targeting alcohol” as a “valid and necessary public strategy.”

“Fixing a minimum price for liquor, reducing advertising, and restricting the size of premises where it can be consumed,” were among the options King suggested in an email to the Tribune.

King said that the traditional English pubs have been replaced with what he calls “drinking ‘warehouses’ which have no seats and loud music,” affecting the drinking culture since people who are standing tend to drink faster, as do those who can’t hear others speak.

The so-called “warehouses” are not too different from clubs in Montreal, a fact which hits close to home for McGill students, many of whom are beginning to drink for the first time. Furthermore, binge drinking—often found in universities—fosters a similar attitude.

Professor Rina Gupta of the McGill department of educational and counselling psychology agrees that the kind of people walking out of bars or warehouses are more likely to commit violent acts.

But Gupta was not entirely convinced by the study’s findings. She maintained that drugs and alcohol are viewed as separate classes of substances for many reasons. There is still a line to be drawn between substance abuse (activities such as drinking and driving, and violence) and dependency. Those who fall into the use of hard drugs are already vulnerable to dependency, and many participate in substance abuse as a form of escape.

“In my mind, the personality type who goes and takes hard drugs is not necessarily the type that drinks. Many people who drink would never, ever touch crack or cocaine,” Gupta said.

Nevertheless, Gupta agrees that the behaviour associated with alcohol use is often violent, because it interferes with our inhibitions. Thus, crime, bullying, date rape, and other types of aggressive behaviour can be found when alcohol is involved.  And while addiction to heavy drugs does cause significant physiological harm to the individual, it appears that the majority of external harm is being caused by alcohol consumers.  

“I’m not surprised at all [with the study’s findings],” said Kristina Valentine, a McGill a U1 psychology student.

 “I have a friend who’s the nicest guy, but who head-butts people when he drinks whiskey. Alcohol does that to you.”

“The bottom line is this,” Gupta said. “University is the first time [these students] can really go out on a regular basis and get heavily involved in alcohol consumption. This culture is not only socially acceptable but expected.”