Which Is More Dangerous: Alcohol or Drugs?

The distorted perception that kills

Posted Jan 05, 2016

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Is there any difference between alcohol and other drugs?  Both are mind-altering chemicals.  Both are highly addictive.  Both can be dangerous. They only differ in their legal status and social acceptability: alcohol is legal, and street drugs aren’t. 

Because of this, alcohol is everywhere.  It’s not only for sale at bars but also at restaurants, gas stations, convenience stores, grocery stores, and all professional sports venues.  You can’t watch television without seeing at least one beer, wine, or liquor commercial, promising alcohol will make you the most popular and desirable man or woman at any party.

And trust me, drug dealers would kill (probably literally) for the opportunity to advertise their product so publicly.

The availability of alcohol is so commonplace most people don’t realize it’s a real drug.  Alcohol has become the socially acceptable way to relax after work.  I mean, it’s just a harmless stress-reliever, right?

Wrong.  According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol causes 88,000 (62,000 men and 26,000 women) deaths every year.  The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism tells us alcohol shortened the lifespan of those 88,000 by 30 years.  That makes alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the U.S.  All other drugs combined cause approximately 30,000 deaths annually. 

It’s no wonder more people enter treatment facilities for alcohol abuse than drugs.

Slate.com
Levels of alcohol consumption in U.S. by deciles
Source: Slate.com

In reality, about 50% of Americans don’t drink at all (would you have guessed the number was that high?!).  Most of the 50% of Americans who do drink consume low, to moderate, amounts of alcohol (less than 1 per day). The vast majority of alcohol in the United States is consumed by the top 10%.  These heavy drinkers consume about 73 drinks per week.  That’s a staggering statistic, isn’t it?  The next highest group consumes 15 drinks per week, still an alarmingly high amount for anyone who isn't in college.  The rest consume 1-6 drinks per week.   

What does this mean?  Think about it.  In order for alcohol manufacturers and distributors to stay in business, they must sell primarily to heavy, problematic, addicted drinkers.  That’s their target market.  This targeting is no different from drug dealers, who also rely on regular customers for most of their sales.  After all, the casual cocaine user is not the one making billions for the cartels.

At nearly every party I attend I’m offered alcohol, the drug most likely to kill an American.  No one would dare offer me meth or cocaine (well, this is Los Angeles, so maybe cocaine). Our society needs to take the blinders off – We pretend alcohol is different and safe. That means we don’t teach anyone how to consume it responsibly even though most drinkers start drinking long before they reach the 21-year age limit. And let’s stop pretending those "other drugs" are so different.  They're not.

Isn’t it time we stopped this madness? 

© 2016 Adi Jaffe, All Rights Reserved

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