Blog: Chris MercerDoes it matter if alcohol is more harmful than crack?

Chris Mercer | 1 November 2010

Media in the UK have gone to town today on a new scientific report that labels alcohol as more harmful than crack cocaine.

The report concludes that alcohol does more harm to society than either crack cocaine or tobacco, principally because heavy drinkers are significantly more likely to harm others as well as themselves.

However, the report also states that crack cocaine and heroin do more harm to individual users than alcohol and are also more addictive. No great surprise there. It should also come as little revelation that alcohol weighs more heavily on society; it is legal and consumption is much more socially acceptable than for so-called hard drugs.

The report's comparison of alcohol and crack cocaine is geared towards securing a headline.

The report's author, professor David Nutt, was sacked as the Government's chief drugs adviser last year after he accused ministers of putting politics before reason, by refusing to lower the penalties for use of hard drugs like cocaine. This study furthers his own agenda.

That said, this report joins a growing school of thought in the UK that assesses harm by looking at society as a whole rather than soley at the individual. We are regularly given varying estimates, usually in billions of pounds, of the associated costs of alcohol on social and health services in the UK - not due to outright alcoholism (if it can be measured), but due to the knock-on effects of a significant number drinking more than they should.

This continues to be the drinks sector's weakest area in terms of defending itself against fresh legislation, particularly in the age of austerity.


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