That is the question Professor David Nutt from Cambridge University has asked his country. Alcohol is undoubtedly the most widespread, destructive drug on the planet, and yet, it is socially accepted and even encouraged in nearly every culture.
Professor Nutt begins by pointing out that in many people’s minds alcohol is not even a drug. When people ingest alcohol they get drunk, yet, when they ingest any other ‘drug’ they get high. Society has classified alcohol as something completely different than any other mind altering substance. It is harmless, and only a problem for a remote minority of the world.
This is simply not true.
Professor Nutt points out the annual statistics concerning Alcohol in the UK alone:
- 40,000 deaths, including 350 just from acute alcohol poisoning and 8,000 from cirrhosis of the liver. More than a million hospital admissions in 2007/8 (including 13,000 under-18s), costing the NHS £2.7 billion.
- 7,000 road traffic accidents, including 500 deaths.
- 1.2 million violent incidents and 500,000 crimes, costing the police £7 billion. In addition:
- 40% of domestic violence cases involve alcohol, as well as 50% of child protection cases.
- 3.5 million adults in the UK are addicted, and up to 700,000 children live with a parent with a drink problem. 6,000 children a year are born with fetal alcohol syndrome each year.
- Globally, the main burden of disease in 15- to 24-year-old males is due to alcohol, outweighing unsafe sex, illicit drug use, and physical accidents combined.
- The total economic cost has been calculated as £30 billion a year – though some calculations estimate it may be as high as £55 billion.
Does this sound like a substance society should be lining the super market shelves with? Professor Nutt explains that the alcohol industry is much to blame for the double think we practice regarding alcohol.
In rebuttal to negative rhetoric regarding alcohol, the industries always find a way to defend themselves. The major points of argument/propoganda are:
- Consuming alcohol is normal, common, healthy and very responsible.
- The damage done by alcohol is caused by a small group of deviants who cannot handle alcohol.
- Normal adult non-drinkers do not, in fact, exist.
- Ignore the fact that alcohol is a harmful and addictive chemical substance (ethanol) for the body.
- Alcohol problems can only be solved when all parties work together.
- Alcohol marketing is not harmful. It is simply intended to assist the consumer in selecting a certain product or brand.
- Education about responsible use is the best method to protect society from alcohol problems.
With a copious amount of information, Professor Nutt explains the fallacies of each of these statements in detail. Alcohol is undoubtedly dangerous for those who drink and those that choose not to.
It’s time to rethink all substances. We need a paradigm shift in the way we view drugs and medicine. A shift that involves science and experience, rather than profits and hysteria.