Alcohol Isn’t More Dangerous Than Heroin

Back in 2010, a British study arguing that alcohol causes more harm to Britons than any other drug received quite a bit of attention. This week, Business Insider resurrected the study with the headline “Another Look At Why Alcohol Might Be More Dangerous Than Heroin” and a series of infographics cataloging all the ways alcohol abuse harms society. While alcohol certainly has a public health cost and can cause harm when abused, is it actually more dangerous than illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine?

No. Alcohol isn’t more dangerous than heroin, cocaine, crack, or any of the other dangerous drugs included in this study and here’s why: Alcohol can be used safely and responsibly in moderation. In fact, moderate drinking has even been linked to health benefits like reduced risk of heart disease. There is no safe or responsible way to use drugs like heroin.

Alcohol abuse is a real problem and addiction to alcohol has dangerous consequences, including drunk driving fatalities, cancer, cirrhosis, and a host of other costly public health problems. Yet most people can enjoy a drink or two without any problems. Alcohol, because it’s legal, is the easiest option for those prone to substance abuse to regularly use. Penalizing occasional drinkers with harsher alcohol laws like fewer retail outlets or higher prices simply isn’t the way to help those with serious drinking problems—those who need a drink to fuel their addiction will find a way to get one.

Headlines claiming alcohol is more dangerous than drugs that can kill users after their first hit might earn a lot of clicks and shares, but it contributes to the misleading narrative that all alcohol use is seriously dangerous. Instead of treating casual office happy hours like opium dens, the public health activists should focus on policies that help drug and alcohol abusers overcome their addictions.