Monday 1 November 2010

Alcohol worse than crack cocaine

David Nutt has been at it again, this time saying that alcohol does more harm than heroin or crack cocaine.

I did have some sympathy with him when got sacked from his job as drugs advisor to the government for what seemed like trying to bring some science into drugs policy. I rapidly went off him when the pub curmudgeon point out that he's working to an anti-alcohol agenda.

Last year he was saying that alcohol is the fifth most dangerous drug but now it's somehow leapt into first place. Such a marked change over the course of a year makes me think that what Nutt is up to is not so much scientific analysis as lies, damned lies and statistics.


  1. The man's a scientist - as a fair test, he should have millions of people trial heroin, crack, ketamine, etc., of a Friday night to see which *really* causes most harm.

  2. Of course there are millions of people who consume heroin and crack cocaine in moderation with no detriment to their health...

  3. It's impossible to compare the effects of drugs and draw a comparison. Weed ruins your memory, booze ruins your liver, heroin leaves you in a gutter with a dirty needle in your arm. Each of these has differing levels of addictiveness or propensity to be habit forming, and each affect a differing proportion of society.

    In terms of a drug that affects most people, the popularity of booze will result in society containing more alcoholics than crack addicts, even if booze has a lower portion of problem users than crack.

    The most dangerous drug is however love. For that we shower regularly, we shave, we change our underpants, we wear clothes our squeezes have bought us, we put our laundry in the basket and we put the toilet seat down. Love is the great immasculator and we do anything for a nice smile off a pretty girl.

  4. LOL! I couldn't possibly comment as the lovely Lisa might read this.

  5. Until about a year ago I used to teach people about government statistics, and statistics on drugs in particular. I would always leap to the defence of the ACMD and Nutt in particular; I still think that their 2007 ranking of drugs in order of dangerousness was reasonably solid (it goes roughly 'heroin, cocaine, downers, alcohol, speed, tobacco, cannabis, ecstasy'). And Nutt has got a point about the relative safety of ecstasy (not that I've ever been tempted - my serotonin balance is precarious enough at the best of times).

    But this stuff - which not only adds "harm to self" and "harm to others" but gives harm to others more weight than harm to self - seems deeply dodgy. Apart from anything else, I was about to take Cookie up on his point about "the drug that affects most people" - that's a factor that you control for in exercises like these, because it has such obvious potential to skew the results. Except that in this case Nutt explicitly isn't controlling for it (quote: "Overall, alcohol is the most harmful drug because it's so widely used.") It's tendentious, it's prohibitionist and it's bad science.

  6. Yes, I thought he seemed quite sensible when I first heard his drugs classification but he seems to be using dubious methods to chase headlines now.

  7. I was immediately skeptical when I read this news story. It's common sense that alcohol would cause the most harm because it's the most widely used drug. If the same percentage of people who drank alcohol took heroin and crack cocaine I'm sure things would be a whole lot worse.

    The full list of the 15 most dangerous drugs is posted here:
    I just can't see the logic - for example, crystal meth at no 4? I know it's a highly addictive and destructive drug but it's almost non-heard of in the UK. As cannabis (no 8) is far more widely used, and causes an awful lot of psychological problems (especially for younger people smoking the more potent variaties)how do they justify putting it lower down the list than crystal meth?