As a cultural icon, alcohol is one of the great mainstays of human civilization, alongside countless unique cuisines, and traditions of music, dance, and architecture. Almost every culture seemed to ferment crops and fruit for drink, at first by accident, or by influence. However, while we look at alcohol’s history through a glass of rosé, we have to realize that most drugs started this way.
Opium, although far more potent than your average spirit, was as important culturally as alcohol. Cannabis, natural hallucinogens like mushrooms and absinthe, and countless other drugs including coca and tobacco leaves have been discovered to not only evolve in use alongside human civilization, but they were used in prehistoric times as well.
We’re not the only animals to imbibe, either, as other animals purposefully consume fermented fruit and eat what might otherwise be hazardous to get a kick out of it. All this is to say that drugs are drugs, and alcohol is only one of several chemicals that we’ve relied on for millennia to have a “good time” – but that doesn’t change that it’s just as deadly as any other drug. In fact, alcohol is arguably one of the deadliest drugs in modern society.
Arguably the Deadliest
It’s important to specify that alcohol is considered one of, if not the most dangerous drug today due specifically due to the havoc it wreaks on society, as well as individuals. Alcohol and tobacco are two of the most carcinogenic drugs on the planet, and they’re also some of the most widespread, enjoying much more use – both casual and habitual use – than any other drug.
This is why alcoholism is considered the deadliest form of addiction. Because it is so widespread, binge drinking and heavy drinking have become serious issues, and as a result, the negative effects of alcohol are also significant and widespread. The correlation between alcohol being ubiquitous and the damage it can deal is correlated in Europe, which has higher rates of alcohol abuse and binge drinking among teens, as well as more alcohol-related deaths per capita. Individually, moderate to heavy alcohol use significantly increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, fatty liver, liver disease, stomach cancer, and stroke.
Societally, alcohol use correlates to higher workplace deaths, auto accidents due to impaired driving, as well as a statistical increase of domestic violence and general aggressive or violent behavior.
Note that it’s important to realize how context matters in these statistics and facts. While alcohol is linked to more violence, for example, it’s also important to distinguish correlation from causation. More alcohol in society means more violence. But on an individual level, this does not mean alcohol is the root of the aggressive behavior. As a depressant, alcohol lowers cognitive inhibitions, basically eliminating the anxieties that stand in the way between you and reckless behavior.
This means if you’re more likely to be aggressive in the first place – such as being very mad – alcohol removes the part of your thought process that usually has you thinking of the consequences of your actions, making it easier for you to rationalize beating someone, or being controlling, or acting out on your negative impulses. This is much more likely if you’re stressed, depressed, or highly agitated, and are drinking as a way to “deal with it”.
Alcoholism is just as serious of an issue as a heroin addiction, an addiction to cocaine, or a dependence on prescription meds. This matters for two reasons:
- There is a serious double-standard regarding the use of drugs, the dangers of addiction, and the casual availability and ubiquitous nature of alcohol. In terms of damage to the economy, loss of life, medical costs and general havoc, alcohol is bar none the most dangerous drug on the planet. However, we fail to recognize it as a deadly toxin. Up to 2.5 percent of teens under the age of 17 suffer from alcohol use disorder, as does 6.2 percent of the adult population (18+). Meanwhile, at least over half of Americans have had alcohol in the last month. This doesn’t mean the general use of alcohol should be vilified, but there is a cognitive dissonance between the realities of what a drug is, and the way Americans see drug use and the people who engage in drugs.
- While alcohol use is more casual and more common than the use of most other drugs (especially illicit drugs), there is still a large portion of people who see alcoholism as personal failing, and a character flaw, rather than as a sickness. Some people conflate addiction with the inability to make good choices due to a person’s own failure, rather than recognizing it as the inability to stop using due to the drug’s own influences. Others accept alcoholic behavior as normal and see both binge drinking and heavy drinking as acceptable. While it is true that not all heavy drinkers are addicts, heavy drinking often leads to alcoholism, or if not that, then any number of potentially fatal diseases.
Why Do We Drink So Much?
There are several reasons behind why alcohol is the biggest and most dangerous drug, the first being the fact that it is far more socially acceptable to drink than it is to do a line of coke or abuse painkillers. People are more likely to turn to alcohol than any other drug for emotional numbing, simply because it’s more readily available. Alcohol is also more toxic and arguably worse for the human body than many other substances, not because drugs like heroin and cocaine are significantly less deadly (as it is just as easy, if not easier to overdose), but because even moderate, controlled alcohol use is likely to affect your health in a statistically relevant way.
Alcohol is not as addictive as most opioids or stimulants, but it is still addictive. This is another reason why many Americans drink – some of them simply cannot stop. And because drinking often is not necessarily stigmatized, it can take years or a terrible event before drinking habits are recognized as a dangerous disease rather than an actual choice.
Thankfully, alcoholism is treatable. Physical dependence often means that you cannot readily choose to stop – but by getting help and treatment, especially at a residential facility or a sober living community, you can give your mind and body the time and resources they need to properly heal.