NY Daily News
It's sobering news for drinkers.
Alcohol is even worse than heroin and crack on the list of "most harmful" drugs, according to a new study published in the British medical journal, The Lancet.
A variety of social, physical and psychological problems that are caused by drugs were examined by a panel of experts, who concluded that alcohol, heroin and crack were the most harmful to others while heroin, crack cocaine and methamphetamine were the most harmful to individual users, CNN reported.
Dr. Petros Livados, director of the Addiction Institute of New York at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital, agreed with the study findings.
"Both in terms of the medical consequences as well as societal consequences, I agree that alcohol ranks very high in overall harmfulness,"he told the News. "Alcohol has tremendous repercussions in our society in terms of drunk driving and societal consequences.”
Twenty drugs were scored on 16 criteria – nine related to the harms that a particular drug does to an individual and seven to the harms a drug does to others. All the drugs were scored out of 100 points, and overall, alcohol came in the highest, at 72 points, according to The Lancet. Heroin came in second with 55 points and crack cocaine took third place with 54 points.
While cocaine and tobacco were found to be equally harmful, LSD and ecstasy were found to be the least harmful, according to BBC.com.
Funding for the study came from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies in London.
The report in the Lancet was co-authored by Professor David Nutt, Britain's former chief drug policy advisor, who stirred up controversy last year when he wrote an article that said riding a horse was more dangerous than taking ecstasy, CNN reported.
Almost 17.6 million adults in the United States either are alcoholics or have alcohol problems, according to the National Institutes of Health.
But because alcohol is legal and easy to access, many people don't think it is a problem for them, says addiction expert Dr. Jeffrey Parsons, chair of the psychology department at Hunter College.
"It is legal and socially sanctioned, so it does not carry the same stigma and issues that illegal drugs do,"he says. "But the negative health consequences of alcohol are even greater than with many illegal drugs.”
Drinkers tend to equate "legal"with "safe,"but that's not necessarily the case, says Lebanon Valley College psychology professor Lou Manza. "In the general public's mind, because you can go and buy alcohol in the store, it is okay,"he said.
One major difference between alcohol and other drugs, such as nicotine, is that there is a "safe"level of it for many people, Livados says. It's generally recognized that two drinks a day for men and one for women can be considered safe, with exceptions such as people with depression or anxiety, those with alcohol dependence and pregnant women.
"It's not the same with nicotine,"Livados says. "We have not been able to find a low threshold under which smoking cigarettes is safe. There's no such thing."
Alcohol dependence tends to be masked more often than dependence upon other drugs, Parsons says. "With alcohol, someone can feel like a law abiding citizen despite the fact that they're abusing a drug," he told The News.