[I fear this post could be a bit long and maudlin. And nowhere near as personal-sounding as it feels. There's a bit about sex at the end but this is mostly about the social impact of other "vices." --fl]
Via Daily Kos, an article by health editor Sarah Boseley of England's The Guardian points out, very correctly, that if alcohol had been introduced recently instead of thousands of years ago it would be considered a class A narcotic (comparable to the U.S. Schedule I classification.)
Alcohol is the most dangerous drug in the UK by a considerable margin, beating heroin and crack cocaine into second and third place, according to an authoritative study published today which will reopen calls for the drugs classification system to be scrapped and a concerted campaign launched against drink.
Led by the sacked government drugs adviser David Nutt with colleagues from the breakaway Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, the study says that if drugs were classified on the basis of the harm they do, alcohol would be class A, alongside heroin and crack cocaine.
Source: The Guardian
This is one of those areas where I really earn my prudish libertine stripes. That cannabis and heroin are illegal and alcohol is not (or, conversely, that alcohol is legal and cannabis and heroin are not) just sticks in my craw the way a law saying men but not women may own property would. Nor is this because I think heroin or even cannabis is just a hunky-dory walk in the park.
For instance consumption of what drug coincides with virtually all violent sexual assaults? And consumed more often, contrary to myriad stereotypes and admonitions, by assailants than their victims? Why that would be alcohol! (Don't even get me started on "ordinary" non-sexual violent assaults!)
And for instance consumption of which drug, exactly, is responsible for great huge quantities of consensual but dysfunctional sex? Alcohol? Why yes!
And for instance consumption of which drug, exactly, is responsible for astonishing quantities of unsafe sex or sex where sex safety is carried out incompetently? Right again!
And finally (for now) for instance which drug is responsible for... disappointing quantities of erectile dysfunction in men, response insufficiency in women, anorgasmia in both, fractured penises, bruised vulvas, blah, blah, blah? No, it's not cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine, "hillbilly heroin," real heroin, huffing glue, or even commonly prescribed legal drugs. Nope. Not dope, it's alcohol yet again.
And to get off my editorial hobby horse for another minute, Boseley adds in her article that (emphasis mine)
Today's study offers a more complex analysis that seeks to address the 2007 criticisms. It examines nine categories of harm that drugs can do to the individual "from death to damage to mental functioning and loss of relationships" and seven types of harm to others. The maximum possible harm score was 100 and the minimum zero.
Overall, alcohol scored 72 – against 55 for heroin and 54 for crack. The most dangerous drugs to their individual users were ranked as heroin, crack and then crystal meth. The most harmful to others were alcohol, heroin and crack in that order.
Harmful to one's self I can nearly waive off with a small-l libertarian shrug (or could if I didn't hadn't watched a few too many alcoholics and heroin addicts slowly destroy their own lives.) Harm to others, however, is almost by-definition invisible to libertarians... which is just one more reason I'll never be a libertarian with a big L.
And just for the record, don't assume I think the default choice ought to be legalization -- for living in such a generally middle-class urban neighborhood it's kind of surprising how prevalent addiction... and it's consequences... can be.
I think I've hinted over the last half year or so that the lives of my neighbors and family have been affected by substances both illegal (heroin) and perfectly, completely, medically (painkillers, mood "elevators") or hardly-a-party-without-it (alcohol) legal.
From the nominal oasis* of my immediate, nuclear family it sure doesn't seem like there's that much difference between the teenager who was found to be poaching booze from neighbor's liquor cabinets was materially different from the young adult who was found to be lifting expired prescription bottles from medicine cabinets. And it doesn't really seem to matter that the quiet young man in the front room of the nearby boarding house, and the equally unassuming young man from the backroom are both unemployable and will soon be homeless, even though one's uncontrollably addicted to a legal substance and the other to an illegal one. Nor does the family down the street with the alcoholic father seem any less textbook clinically-dysfunctional than the one around the corner where the mom's hooked on some kind of oxycodone. They're just all equally fucked up.
And finally, a bit of Googling turns up 40 AlAnon weekly meetings in Seattle. (AlAnon, if you don't know, is an organization not for families of alcoholics and drug addicts, not the addicts themselves.) Forty separate meetings sounds like a lot. At least it sounds like a lot to me! Or it would sound a lot if a bit more Googling turned up 130 (one hundred and thirty!) Alcholics Anonymous meetings in the same city.
130 meetings just on Sundays!
Monday-Friday there's an average of 145 meetings per day. (There are closer to 15 narcotics-anonymous meetings a day in the same area though that's seriously apples to oranges -- a lot of drug addicts attend AA instead.)
Point being that just for alcohol that's a fuck of a lot of impact! And yet it's legal as pencils or polyester batting. More legal in a lot of places than vibrators, condoms, or abortion services.
And Dick Cheney wasn't shooting heroin or snorting coke or even tuffing hemp when he shot his hunting companion in the face. He was "just" drunk. And yet alcohol is legal and dope is not.
Almost all rape occurs when one or both the victim and perpetrator are drunk. Yet alcohol is legal and coke is not.
An inordinate amount of unsafe sex happens when one or both participants have been drinking. And yet alcohol is legal and OTC codeine is not.
I wonder how many people a year die of over-use a year -- from straight-up overdoses to cirrhosis to "collateral" deaths from drunk drivers and drive-by or turf-battle murders? How does it compare to, oh, say, death by HIV? (Oh wait! A lot of HIV is transmitted by exchanged dope needles. More is transmitted by people to drunk to remember condoms save lives.)
* Yeah, like we're unaffected just because it's not happening inside our four walls.