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What are the Most Dangerous Drugs?

When I’m giving a talk in schools on drugs, I ask the pupils if they want me to talk on drugs in general or on the most dangerous drugs in particular. They always fall into my trap. They want me to talk about cocaine or heroin but, in terms of numbers of deaths from drug use, they don’t come anywhere near the big killers: alcohol, sugar and nicotine.

Teachers and parents may also want me to talk about all the illegal drugs – particularly whichever drug is generating the news story of the moment. But I stick to my guns and talk about the substances that lead to the highest amount of death and destruction.

Alcohol, sugar and nicotine are all legal yet, in the UK (multiply by 3 for the USA) alcohol kills 100 people a day, sugar kills 200 and nicotine kills 300. A whole jumbo jet full of nicotine addicts crashes every day.*

By contrast, all the illegal drugs put together kill 50 people a day. Legalizing them would probably lead to vastly more deaths. But we don’t notice the deaths from the addictive substances I have listed – other than in celebrity cases – because they are “normal.”

  • Behind cancer is nicotine – in many cancers, not only cancer of the lung. Sugar and alcohol are also implicated in some cancers.
  • Behind heart attacks and strokes are nicotine, sugar and alcohol and also some drugs, particularly cocaine.
  • Behind diabetes are sugar and alcohol.
  • Behind suicide is often addictive behavior of one kind or another.

But we have to be careful to note that these problems go with the person as much as with the substance. Some of us are addicts by nature. We are more likely to use mood-altering substances. We are therefore more likely to get the various damaging consequences of their use. Yet still we may not see these deaths as being due to the underlying addiction – because we may see addiction as something that is a product of weakness of will or poor upbringing or difficult circumstances rather than as an illness. And we may not believe that anything as dreadful and disgusting as addiction could happen to us or in our families or companies.

So, in schools, I don’t talk about drugs. I acknowledge that many of the pupils know more about specific drugs than I do. Some are taking them; others are selling them. But I know about addiction – and long-term recovery from it – and they don’t. Because I’m an addict.

I haven’t used anything addictive for the last 30 years, but I’m still an addict today. Once an addict, always an addict.-Robert Lefever

I may not look like an addict, but I am one – fully paid up, probably since birth. I haven’t used anything addictive for the last 30 years, but I’m still an addict today. Once an addict, always an addict.

Any substance or process that has a mood-altering effect is potentially dangerous to me. If it fills my sense of inner emptiness, even for a short time, I’m in favor if it. And using one addictive substance often leads to using others. I’m not so much addicted to one substance or another as to, “Yes – if it works.”

In the last 26 years I’ve treated over 5,000 in-patient addicts of one kind or another – mostly people who have problems with alcohol, drugs or sugar. The nicotine addicts tend to believe that it won’t kill them just yet – so they don’t ask for help – but it drives them back into other addictions that will kill them.

These patients of mine mostly look like me. They don’t look at all like the standard press photographs of “addicts” – which is why we don’t notice them.

Probably about 15 percent of people have addiction problems. That’s a lot of people. But we don’t see them even when known statistics are pointed out to us:

  • 20 percent of all hospital beds are occupied by people with alcohol-related conditions.
  • 20 percent of all suicides involve people with alcohol problems.
  • 10 percent of all post-mortems show significant liver damage from alcohol.
  • 50 percent of all people seen in hospitals and emergency rooms in the evenings and during the weekends have problems caused by the use of alcohol or drugs.
  • 85 percent of episodes of domestic violence are related to alcohol use.

If alcohol isn’t a “dangerous” drug, I don’t know what is.

But why do addicts like me behave in the way we do? And why don’t we just stop causing so much damage to ourselves and other people? Why don’t we even see what we are doing?

I believe that we have – probably genetically inherited – defects in the mood centers of our brains. We feel depressed for no obvious external reason. We just are. Then, when we discover something that works for us in lifting our mood, we use it – and we go on using it to keep the black dog away.

Yet the most frightening thing about this is that we may not see what we are doing to ourselves. The winos on the park bench believe that they have a problem with housing and employment and entitlement to social services – but not with alcohol, which they consider to be a friend. The man who – through his alcohol use – has lost his wife, his job and his driving license, goes back to the bar for comfort.

So when we’re looking at really dangerous drugs we would do well to start by looking at ourselves and at our use of alcohol. If we are able to understand that challenge, we will be well on our way to knowing about why other people use other dangerous drugs.

The winos on the park bench believe that they have a problem with housing and employment and entitlement to social services – but not with alcohol, which they consider to be a friend.-Robert Lefever

Then we can have a look at the dangerous drugs that doctors prescribe in huge quantities: antidepressants, tranquilizers, sleeping tablets and methadone. By switching off feelings, these are very dangerous drugs indeed. They turn human beings into robots. This is medical damage at its worst, and it’s avoidable by using non-medicinal treatments, such as encouraging patients to become totally abstinent from all mood-altering substances – there are other pleasures in life – and to work the Twelve-Step program.

*Statistics informed by contributing author’s estimates.

Photo Source: pixabay