Is alcohol a dangerous drug?

Drug Policy Question of the Week – 7-19-10

As answered by Mary Jane Borden, Editor of Drug War Facts for the Drug Truth Network on 7-19-10.

Question of the Week: Is alcohol a dangerous drug?

Let’s look at some statistics.

A 2009 report from the National Center for Health Statistics estimated that about 22,000 people died of alcohol-induced causes in 2006.

Numbers from 1993 quoted in a 2009 study from the Journal of Psychopharmacology stated,

“Four per cent of the global burden of disease is attributable to alcohol (about as much as that to tobacco and hypertension) and causally related to more than 60 medical conditions.”

An editorial in the New Zealand Journal of Medicine calculated that

“The lethal dose of alcohol divided by a typical recreational dose [in other words, its safety ratio] is 10, which places it closer to heroin [safety ratio – 6), and GHB [safety ratio – 8] in terms of danger from overdose”

The editorial further asserted that alcohol is considerably more dangerous than LSD [with a safety ratio of 1000] or cannabis, whose safety ratio is greater than 1,000.

A 1998 Bureau of Justice Statistics analysis found that,

“Federal statistics show that a large percentage of criminal offenders were under the influence of alcohol alone when they committed their crimes (36.3%, or a total of [1.9 million] offenders). Federal research also shows for more than 40% of convicted murderers being held in either jail or State prison, alcohol use was a factor in the crime.”

That Journal of Psychopharmacology study compared alcohol to GHB and concluded,

“the degree of danger to public health caused by ethanol is similar to that caused by GHB.”

In the United States, GHB is a Schedule 1 drug, the same classification as heroin.

These facts and others like them can be found in the Alcohol chapter of Drug War

Questions concerning these or other facts concerning drug policy can be e-mailed to