The top socially-accepted drug

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Thousands of substances which are defined as ‘drugs’ are used every day, and many of them in enormous quantities.
A socially-accepted drug is described as a chemical substance of some kind that has some effect on the body or mind and is not considered to be “bad” by the general public or the law.
The most important self-administered drugs and by far the most frequently used are alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and minor pain-killers (aspirin and paracetamol).
According to a British study, alcohol and tobacco are more dangerous than some illegal drugs such as marijuana and ecstasy.
Professor David Nutt of Britain’s Bristol University and colleagues placed alcohol and tobacco in the list of the top 10 most dangerous substances.
They used three methods to determine the harmful effects of these substances. First, the physical harm to the user; second the drug’s potential for abuse; and lastly the impact of the drug on society.
Nutt asked for the help of psychiatrists, specialists in addiction and a legal office with experience in medical expertise, to give scores of up to 20 on different drugs such as heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, amphetamines and LSD.
According to the results, heroin and cocaine ranked as the most dangerous. Barbiturates and street methadone came next. It was said that alcohol was considered to be the fifth most harmful substance and tobacco was ninth.
Alcohol is to be blamed for more than half of all visits to hospitals and emergency rooms. In addition to that, other harmful consequences are reported in society and among family relationships. And it also results in unnecessary waste of police services.

Why is alcohol a socially-accepted drug?

Alcohol is treated in a large part of the world as if it is not a drug and has no negative consequences.
Almost every social situation seems to involve alcohol. How many parties are thrown without alcohol being served? How many people go out after work or at the weekend and do not drink? What holiday is celebrated without wine, champagne, or a cocktail of some sort? From ‘happy hours’, to fundraisers, to weddings, anniversaries or any other celebration, alcohol is involved every step of the way.
In social gatherings, everyone is throwing back drinks and acting differently as their inhibitions fade. Someone who remains sober may feel pressured to drink so as not to feel excluded. They are teased and embarrassed if they do not join in, as if there is something wrong with them for choosing not to.
Often people do not just down one or two drinks, but drink to get intoxicated (binge drinking), even if they do not necessarily see alcohol as an intoxicant. Drinking is the social norm. It is this culture of drinking that is the biggest problem.
When people eventually acknowledge that alcohol causes harm, language conveniently distances them from asking whether their own drinking is worth thinking about. Terms such as “alcohol abuse” or “alcohol misuse” reinforce the idea that risky drinking and related harm is something that happens to others, to a small minority of “totally different, unusual people” – a non relevant problem for them as drinking is the social norm. This dissuades many from perceiving the problem and taking action to reduce alcohol-related risk. It also allows “normal” people to consider the need to control a small group of “alcohol abusers” and leave them to enjoy “normal” drinking.
But still a lot of people who drink and experience adverse consequences don’t register this as reason enough to think about their drinking “habit”. But it is usually too late when they realise it.
Most forget that alcohol is a drug, so when asked to name drug-related problems, the tendency is to think of illegal drugs such as cannabis or heroin. But drinking is accompanied by a growing array of problems, and thus we should review our tolerance to alcohol intoxication, as it is sometimes a passport to otherwise unacceptable anti-social and aggressive behaviour. Not considering it “ok” might help reduce the large numbers of people exposed to harm from other people’s drinking.
The binge-drinking culture among young people is harmful to their physical and mental wellbeing, but educating them out of this risky behaviour is made very difficult by the increasing liberalisation of alcohol all around them.
Young people are influenced by their peers and often overestimate how much their peers are drinking and by the expected positive things that drinking alcohol will achieve. They tend to be less concerned about the negative things and are not always motivated by the same issues and concerns that influence older people. For them, they are young, so “everything goes” and “nothing wrong will happen”… they just want to have fun.
But the fact is, they may “need” to forget a reality they do not know how to deal with.
And that is often the real reason why most people drink. But the truth is … it does not work that well.
Best healthy wishes,
Dr. Maria Alice
By Dr Maria Alice
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Dr Maria Alice is a consultant in General and Family Medicine. General Manager/Medical Director – Luzdoc International Medical Service. Medical Director – Grupo Hospital Particular do Algarve