Former Chief Drugs Advisor: ‘Alcohol More Harmful Than Heroin’. - Rehab Guide
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Former Chief Drugs Advisor: ‘Alcohol More Harmful Than Heroin’.

Alcohol; more bad effects than heroin

Heroin, cocaine, LSD and beer? Alcohol might not seem to fit into this list but a former UK Chief Drugs Advisor, Professor David Nutt, has co-authored a paper for the medical journal ‘The Lancet’ that suggests otherwise.

What Are The Most Dangerous Drugs?

A study that looked at alcohol use globally over 26 years it has created a new drug scale that shows alcohol is more damaging than the most dangerous drugs. The results show that alcohol causes more social and physical loss than harmful drugs such as heroin or crack cocaine.

The paper devised a ranking scale to rate the most prevalent illegal drugs against each other. They judged them by their effect on the user and on society in general. Ranked among the least damaging were ecstasy and LSD. The worst were alcohol and Meth. Tobacco and cocaine were deemed equally harmful.

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Image from Lancet Journal Copyright © 2010 Elsevier Ltd

The New Drug Danger Chart

Professor David Nutt was sacked from his role as the UK Drugs Advisor by the then Home Secretary Alan Johnson after publicly stating his belief that alcohol was/is more dangerous than ecstasy or LSD.

The public and professional support for his stance were such that he started the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs with Dr Les King, who had left his own government position over Professor Nutts’ treatment.

The drug scale they used looked at each of the chosen drugs and assigned them scores for the level of harm they caused to individuals and society in areas such as mental/physical harm, crime and the cost of crime prevention, the possibility of addiction, the cost to communities etc.

The results were delivered in two demographics, the danger to the user and the danger to society. Then the score earned on both can be tallied and the totals show the more/most harmful of drugs.

This new scale is widely different to the current system of classification in place in the UK and the authors claim that it is much more accurate and relevant, as; “the present drug classification systems have little relation to the evidence of harm.”

It was Professor Nutt who, in 2007 and while still holding his government advisory role, tried to introduce the same new ranking system to the UK to the complaint of the sitting Labour government.

Why Is Alcohol Worse Than Drugs?

The paper states “They also accord with the conclusions of previous expert reports that aggressively targeting alcohol harms is a valid and necessary public health strategy.”

The Home Office had only recently given an emergency Classification B to the ‘legal high’ mephedrone (meow meow). The proposed system contradicted this move, claiming that alcohol was at least 5 times more harmful.

However, there are other factors at play in devising this scale. The results need to take into account the influence of legal and social status of drugs and alcohol which are very different in the UK. This goes both ways with some of the harm of drugs being created from stigma and operating illegally.

Alcohol on the other hand exists without restrictions and less social stigma. This means that people feel freer to openly behave in an unsafe way under the influence of alcohol than drugs.

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Why Has The Government Rejected This Study?

Besides the general social acceptance of alcohol, the paper itself mentions several limitations.

Firstly, harm is divided into types in the report. The more severe concerns such as deaths are given no more importance than relationship or financial loss.

Heroin for example causes far more deaths in users than alcohol. The biggest harms of alcohol are injury and economic. However, because they are counted the same way the overall harm of alcohol appears to be higher.

It is left up to the individual whether they consider deaths, crime, community and family harm to be equal. This means answering a ‘question like what is worse cocaine or alcohol?’ will depend on how you view the damage.

What neither method of classification does, or reasonably can do, is rank the effect of taking drugs together or misusing two or more over a period of time. The story was reported by the BBC. Professor Nutt was sacked for speaking out. The Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs.

Sources Drug harms in the UK: a multicriteria decision analysis

Author 'John


Trained in addictionology in the Johnson Model, and specializing in substance abuse for individual and couple counselling. John's personal experience has given him a wealth of insights, which he integrates into practice. His extensive training has allowed him to gain expertise in individual and group counselling, concurrent disorders, case management, executing treatment plans and relapse prevention. He started this free helpline as a result of a life change and to help others get sober and live a life free from drugs and alcohol. John covers a variety of topics relating to addiction and recovery in his articles.


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