By Mike Lillis - 11/02/10 01:57 PM EDT
All things considered, alcohol is more harmful than heroin, cocaine and other illegal drugs, British researchers reported this week.
The study, funded by the United Kingdom's Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, found that heroin, crack cocaine and methamphetamine are the most dangerous to individual users. But when broader societal and environmental costs are factored in, alcohol ranks as the most dangerous of them all.
Booze, for instance, is by far the most threatening drug to others, researchers said. (Think bar brawls and car crashes.) The experts considered 16 separate factors surrounding 20 different drugs in reaching their conclusions — nine factors related to individual harms and seven relating to the harm to others.
On a scale of 100 — with 100 being the most harmful — alcohol scored a 72, with heroin a distant 55 and crack coming in at 54.
So why is alcohol legal in most countries while the other drugs are not?
"What governments decide is illegal is not always based on science," Wim van den Brink, a professor of psychiatry and addiction at the University of Amsterdam, told The Washington Post. "Drugs that are legal cause at least as much damage, if not more, than drugs that are illicit."
The findings were reported Monday in the journal The Lancet.