The drug kills 24,518 Americans per year. Over half of citizens 18 and over consume it regularly. When abused (in excess of 2 glasses per day), all of the benefits – lowered blood pressured, lessened anxiety and stress – appear to revert and can lead to liver disease, liver cancer, high blood pressure, strokes, anxiety, depression and blindness. Consumed in higher quantities – again over 2 glasses a day, it can impair judgment, retard reflexes and “push” people to do things they otherwise might not do. Driving while intoxicated is a good example of this. If you consume too much of this drug, you can get alcohol poisoning and actually die. The poison related to these facts also happens to be one that is completely legal for anybody over the age of 21 to consume. Alcohol is potentially one of the most dangerous drugs we know of, yet it enjoys a completely legal status.
Although it is completely legal, the dangers of drinking are numerous and severe. Firstly, it is an addictive substance, and after drinkers have developed a tolerance to it they need to consume more and more to feel the same effects. In the short term, alcohol causes loss of inhibition, loss of coordination, impaired judgment and slurred speech. This is generally through alcohol’s depressing effects on the brain and the nervous system, which explains why excessive alcohol consumption generally leads to sleep. Any addictive substance creates problems because it allows individuals to use the substance instead of dealing with their problems in a healthier fashion.
In the long term, the dangers associated with alcohol addiction become more severe. The main physical risk is to the liver, which is charged with processing the alcohol toxin and ridding the body of it through urine. Over time, the liver can accumulate fatty deposits, become inflamed (resulting in hepatitis) and develop cirrhosis. This progression is known as alcoholic liver disease, and it can be fatal in many cases. When the healthy tissue of the liver has been replaced with scar tissue in cirrhosis, the condition becomes irreversible and the damaged liver no longer functions effectively. This can lead to liver cancer and death.
The effects of alcohol on the nervous system also cause several severe long term effects. It can lead to damage to the brain, which could result in dementia, depression, confusion and anxiety, as well as potentially reducing intellectual capabilities. The effects of alcohol on the nervous system elsewhere throughout the body can cause blindness, tremors, loss of balance, and impotence. During detoxification from alcohol, there may also be a particularly harsh period of withdrawal known as delirium tremens, which can consist of seizures, hallucinations, sweating, and delirium. This is classed as a medical emergency, because it is potentially fatal.
Why Aren’t the Risks Reflected in the Law?
From the lists of potential side-effects above, it’s clear that alcohol is both addictive and physically dangerous, but it still remains one of the few drugs that are permitted by the law. The overall idea of controlling certain substances is assumedly to protect members of society from risks. Other legal drugs, like legal highs, are being constantly outlawed by new legislation at the slightest hint of a risk. It seems that if this same “no tolerance” approach was applied to alcohol, it would have been made illegal a long time ago.
Current drug law is illogical at best, because if you compare alcohol with illegal substances, alcohol often seems more dangerous. Withdrawal from a myriad of other substances are considered less dangerous than alcohol withdrawal, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. And like a great many other drugs, overdose of alcohol can be fatal.
Based on the current sum of knowledge about drugs that are abused, alcohol could easily be considered amongst the most dangerous. One could deduce (rightly or wrongly) that the current drug laws are not always about ensuring the safety of the population at all, which naturally makes you wonder what the real driving force behind drug legislation is. If it were people’s safety, this would require a closer look at alcohol.
For anyone who has lost a loved one to alcohol abuse, to a drunk driver or watched someone die of alcohol-related liver disease, it is difficult to understand why, at minimum, there aren’t more restrictions placed on this drug.