Study Reveals Alcohol More Damaging than Heroin

in Science & Tech by

In a study published in the medical journal The Lancet today, Alcohol is reported to be the most damaging drug to the imbiber and to others overall, with heroin and crack coming in second and third most harmful. The report, authored by Professor David Nutt and his associate collaborators, states that when all factors related to self harm and harm to others are added up, alcohol clearly comes out on top. The authors further claim that drugs, which included tobacco products and alcohol, are major factors in the damage of individuals and to society as a result of individual use.

The study stresses the importance of categorizing this damage, so that policy makers from many fields can be thoroughly informed so more effective changes can be made to health, social care and law enforcement.  Cataloging these effects can be complicated, according to the authors, since drug use and abuse can cause a wide variety of damage.

Professor Nutt and his colleagues had attempted a similar endeavor a few years earlier – asking experts to score each drug based on nine categories of harm, including the inherent harm of each drug along with the social and medical costs for each. That study garnered a lot of interest and debate but there was criticism about how each of the nine criterion was weighed by participants.

However in this newest research,  Nutt claim to have addressed these issues by utilizing a multicriteria decision analysis (MCDA) when examining drug harms. The MCDA system has been shown to be effective in the decision making process in areas where factors, features and characteristics are complicated and at odds with each other.

Nine of the criterion was related to how individual drugs affected the user, and six examined how they affected others, including the host country of the UK as well as others.

Ranking was determined by using up to 100 points for each, with a score of 100 being the most damaging and zero indicating no damage.

The nine harm-to-self categories of a drug included:

  • dependence
  • drug-related damage
  • drug-related impairment of mental functioning
  • drug-related mortality
  • drug-specific damage
  • drug-specific impairment of mental function
  • injury
  • loss of relationships
  • loss of tangibles

The harm-to-others categories of a drug included:

  • crime
  • decline in community cohesion
  • economic cost
  • environmental damage
  • family conflict
  • international damage

Among other conclusions, researchers determined that alcohol was the most harmful drug overall and almost three times as harmful as tobacco or cocaine (see sidebar). It also revealed that the most harmful drugs to the individual are heroin, crack and crystal meth, while the the most harmful drugs to others are alcohol, heroin and crack.


Photo source: Wikipedia