I’m currently living and traveling through South America. I am also a former mental health/addictions nurse and 5 years sober. It’s interesting to travel while sober. Many people look at me like I’ve passed gas when I say I don’t drink. In any case, I’m pretty used to my sober life. Still, I must admit that I get constant reminders of how prevalent the culture of alcohol is in our global society.
I also see the incredible conflicting information and belief systems we have about alcohol. For instance, a few days ago, I saw this sign (pictured below) while looking at the menu in a local restaurant.
Photo taken by author
It says “Consumir drogas no te hace “libre”, te hace esclavo.” In English, this translates to “Consuming drugs doesn’t make you free, it makes you a slave.”
Here in this town, drugs like pot, cocaine, and other illegal substances are frowned upon. They don’t want these drugs in the establishments, hence why they post the sign.
However, this sign was posted by the bar area, where they sell a variety of alcohol brands. Although this sign is in a South America country, it shows a clear and universal understanding of alcohol, which is — the world does not believe that alcohol is a drug.
Yet, it’s perhaps the most dangerous drug in the world. And there’s tons of research to back this up. (see list of research references below).
In the Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health published by the WHO, most countries in the world show a high incidence of medium to high-risk drinking patterns. This means that most countries report drinking patterns that are above the safe limits of alcohol consumption.
Furthermore, the years of life lost to disability and death from alcohol use is much higher than other drugs. The conditions that cause the highest number of death and disability from alcohol are: injuries, liver disease, suicide, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.
World data about alcohol consumption shows an increase in health issues related to risky drinking across the globe. Heavy drinking among women and youth has increased. Psychological and physical health issues due to heavy drinking has also increased.
According to a study by David Nutt, a psychopharmacology researcher, the harm to self and others caused by alcohol is higher than heroin or crack.
Image taken from research report by David Nutt and published in Psych Scene Hub
Other studies report serious psychoneurological damage through both risky use and withdrawal from alcohol. Indeed, emergency room visits due to alcohol-related issues are higher than any other drug. And yet, here we are, establishments that sell alcohol post signs about how we are slaves to drugs while simultaneously selling the most dangerous drug of all.
Why is this information not common knowledge? Well, I suspect that it may be, yet we refuse to acknowledge it. Such is the power of addiction, I think. Also, let’s not forget the incredible profit that alcohol provides to the global economy.
Or do we really not see alcohol as the dangerous drug that it is?
If not, we need this information to be more public. My hope is that someday, alcohol will go the way of tobacco — warnings and policy efforts aimed to reduce consumption. Fortunately, there are some alcohol vendors that post signs relaying the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption.
I think we do understand that heavy drinking can lead to our demise. However, most people don’t know that these risks also relate to even moderate drinking too.
Research shows that even moderate drinking causes irritability, anxiety, and withdrawal symptoms. One can only imagine what that does to our nervous system and attention span as we drive our cars, try to concentrate, and move around safely in the world.
But, the more we know, the better decisions we can make.
Do not be confused, alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs in the world. So the next time you talk about how terrible drugs are, make sure to include alcohol in that discussion.
By not acknowledging that fact, we’re only lying to ourselves.
Here’s a list of research references used to write this article: