Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Lancet Study: Alcohol More Dangerous than Heroin

Front-page news in the Guardian today: A study published Friday in the online edition of the British medical journal Lancet declaring alcohol is the most dangerous drug in the United Kingdom—much more dangerous than heroin and crack, or even tobacco.

The study turns conventional perceptions on their heads by classifying alcohol along with heroin and crack as “Class A” dangerous drugs, with alcohol in the far in the lead. Behind the top three come crystal meth, cocaine, tobacco, amphetamines and cannabis.

The drugs were scored on 16 harm criteria, from drug-specific and drug-related mortality and damage at the top, through dependence, impairment of mental functioning, loss of tangibles and relationships, injury, crime, family adversities, environmental and international damage and economic cost.  Scores ranged from 0 (no harm) to 100 (maximum harm), with each point indicating an equal measure of “harm”—so a drug scoring 50 (roughly, crack) was considered to be 25 percent less harmful than a drug scoring 75 (roughly, booze).

Source: Lancet, 29 October 2010. Drag file to your desktop to view in full resolution.

Amazing. But what we’ve always known, right?

That’s not to say that if crack were legal, it wouldn’t score higher.

One question I had: If, as various sources state, tobacco is causing more than 100,000 deaths in the UK each year (roughly one-quarter to one-fifth of the deaths it causes in the US), why does tobacco rank so low on the list? In 2008, according to the UK Office for National Statistics, alcohol caused 9,000 deaths. They must think alcohol has greater collateral damage than tobacco—I’d like to hear about why they think this is more important.

Another question: Where were the prescription drugs? Methadone and buprenorphine are the only ones appearing on this list. Maybe they’re more tightly regulated in the UK—but in the US, OxyContin and Vicodin would be on this scale somewhere, and I’d like to know where they would rank.


  1. Alcohol is more dangerous (to other people) than heroin. I’ve said that all along. Alcoholics are violent, beat each other up in bars, get in cars, and drive right over people. I live next door to a few pot heads (I live in an artsy fartsy area) and they are the quietest, nicest people. I’m so glad they’re not practicing alcoholics. I was a total asshole when I was drunk. I started a lot of fights. Thank God I didn’t drive back then. When I was a pothead, I’d bake you stuff and watch cartoons with you. When I was a heroin addict, I got high and lay on the floor for days. Cokeheads and meth freaks are too sketched. They’re hiding. Alcoholics go get right out there and into people’s faces. They go into government offices and threaten people (I’ve seen it myself.) So yeah, this study is unsurprising to me.

  2. Alcohol seems to have such far reaching consequences in society–from the womb with fetal alcohol syndrome to the undiagnosed Al-Anons who are a mess because of alcoholism. It isn’t just about the person drinking, it is about all those around him/her and the consequences of what they are doing.

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  1. Seems Obvious to Me

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