Addiction Drug Use Why Alcohol Is the Most Harmful Drug By Buddy T Buddy T Facebook Twitter Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism. Learn about our editorial process Updated on August 29, 2020 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE Medically reviewed by John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE is board-certified in addiction medicine and preventative medicine. He is the medical director at Alcohol Recovery Medicine. For over 20 years Dr. Umhau was a senior clinical investigator at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Alcohol Is a Dangerous Drug. © Getty Images Alcohol is the world's most dangerous drug when you consider the harm it does to drinkers, their friends and families, and society in general. The harm that alcohol does exceeds the dangers of even heroin and crack cocaine when the overall danger to the user and others is taken into account. This is the conclusion of a panel of British experts that assessed and ranked the harm caused by 20 different drugs, both legal and illegal. Members of Britain's Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs (ISCD) and two specialists from the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) carefully assessed the harm caused by each drug in 16 separate categories. If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database. Ranking the Harm Drugs Do The scientists ranked each drug on a scale of 0 to 100 in nine areas related to the harm that the drugs do to the individual. They also ranked each drug in seven categories of harm they do to others. When ranking drug harm, researchers looked at the physical, psychological, and social harm the drugs do to life expectancy, health risks, dependence, mental functioning, loss of tangibles, loss of relationships, crime, costs to society, family adversities, and other factors. By applying multicriteria decision analysis to each drug and then weighing which harms are more important than others, the scientists were able to give each drug a score that could be compared across all 16 criteria. How Alcoholism Affects Society The Damage Done by Drugs Some of the harms to the user included: Drug-specific deathDrug-related deathDamage to healthDrug dependenceLoss of relationships Some of the harms to others that were considered included: Crime Environmental damage Family conflict International damage Economic cost Damage to community cohesion The panel's analysis showed that heroin, crack cocaine and methamphetamine were the most harmful drugs to the individual user. Alcohol, heroin, and crack were the most harmful to others. When the two areas of harm were combined, the overall most harmful drugs were alcohol, heroin, and crack cocaine. The Most Harmful Drugs Here are the scores each drug received for overall harm caused on a scale of 0 to 100: Alcohol: 72 Heroin: 55 Crack cocaine: 54 Methamphetamine: 33 Cocaine: 27 Tobacco: 26 Amphetamine: 23 Marijuana: 20 GHB: 19 Benzodiazepines: 15 Ketamine: 15 Methadone: 14 Anabolic steroids: 10 Ecstasy: 9 LSD 7 Buprenorphine: 7 Mushrooms: 6 The ISCD panel, chaired by Professor David Nutt, concluded that the current drug classification systems do not take into account the actual harms done by various drugs and have little relation to harm caused. "It is intriguing to note that the two legal drugs assessed—alcohol and tobacco—score in the upper segment of the ranking scale, indicating that legal drugs cause at least as much harm as do illegal substances," Nutt said. This work suggest that public health strategies need to be adjusted to aggressively target the harm that alcohol does. Addressing these issues can lead to programs and policies centered on harm reduction. The Costs of Drug Use to Society 1 Source Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Nutt D, King L, Phillips L. Drug harms in the UK: A multicriteria decision analysis. The Lancet. 2010;376(9752):1558-1565. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(10)61462-6 By Buddy T Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Get Treatment for Addiction Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.