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Drugs Vs Alcohol: Is One Addiction Worse Than The Other?

Updated on March 13, 2012

This is a very interesting and controversial question, and I wanted to take a stab at getting my view out about the subject. Two of the worse afflictions that plague most societies in the world, are alcoholism and drug addiction. Though as many have pointed out, each can be better or worse than the other, depending on the situation.

So in order to discover the best possible answer to this question, first we must dissect it. Break it down and understand it. Then we can go from there to deduce a calculate answer that might help clear some things up.

What makes an addiction bad?

The first thing to examine, is the word "worse". I suggest this, because the question is subjective precisely because of the word "worse". It can hold many meanings to different thinkers. So let's take a look at what can take a drug or drinking problem from a passion to an obsession and into the world of problem addictions. What makes them bad?

1. Societal Norms

Drinking and enjoying recreational substances is nothing new to humanity. Though what is relatively new, are laws against these acts. With this whole majority/minority deal going, many people are subject to laws and societal rules put in place to decide if something is wrong or right. If you happen to be in a society that feels drinking isn't so bad, but doing drugs is way out of line - then having a drug addiction would be seen as much worse then an alcohol problem. It could also work the other way, if you were in a society that view alcoholism as a worse problem then drugs.

2. Health Consequences

Over time, our bodies will age, wear and fade away. It happens. And as of yet, there is no magic fountain of youth to stop that from happening. Though even with the absolute fact of this, we are also stifled with the knowledge that the human body is designed to live approximately 180 years or more. Yet your average human rarely sees anything over the age of 80 years. Even the longest living of our species have yet to make it over 120, and several of them had a regular six pack of beer and pack of smokes every day, among other things.

So we cannot necessarily say that drugs or drinking are the main causes of premature deaths in our genus, though we do have plenty of definitive evidence that unnatural, man-made or broken down substances - including alcohol - can accelerate the age and condition of our bodies. When this starts to happen, most people stop with what they have been doing and allow their bodies to heal. Though for a person with an addiction, they are not endowed with such willpower and will often continue with their habit until it breaks their body down along with their mind. In this instance, you could judge that the worse addiction, is the one that takes more of a toll on the human body in the shortest amount of time.

3. Morality

Everyone has a person view about the things that effect them. It's that little voice in your head that tells you when you are doing something wrong or right. That voice might agree with societal norms or religious views, or it might disagree. Either way, that little voice in your head, plays a part in this question. If your moral mind says that it's not good to pollute the body in anyway, than alcoholism and drug addictions are equally as bad. Though if your the average person, there are some drugs and some kinds of drinks that are seen as better or worse on the scale of addictions. There are definitely plenty of grey areas, but it will ultimately come down to what you think. What's worse? Drug addiction or Alcoholism?

4. Effects on Others

This is a key factor that I hope everyone takes into account. Alcoholism and drug addiction take more than just a toll on the abuser. The question is, how many people are affected by the individual abuser. Someone with no family, who lives on a secluded forest home, probably wouldn't effect too many other people around them. Though someone with a family, kids or who is in a relationship, will impact a lot of others lives around them. Sometimes addictions will affect a persons career as well, and as we know all to well, some addictions can effect total strangers. Such as when a drunk barrels down the road and runs someone over, or when a drug addict robs a store to get money for their next fix. Depending on how many people are co-affected by the addiction, can make one worse than the other.

5. Affordability

If you can't afford to pay your bills, yet you choose to buy alcohol or drugs with your remaining funds, that can be a lot worse than a person who pays all their bills and uses surplus funds to provide for their recreational substances. Both drugs and drinking are expensive, though some are more expensive then others. A person with an addiction to cheap boxed wine might be seen of more of a nusaunce than a problem, whereas someone whose pawned everything they know for some meth, would be seen as much worse of a problem. It could also be reversed, where an alcoholic might spend their whole paycheck on a night out at the bar finishing off expensive drinks, and that would be much worse than someone who occasionally bought some shrooms to enjoy with a friend.

There can be other factors involved in deciding what makes drugs or drinking worse, though I'll leave those up to you. For now, let's finish dissecting this question and get to the answer.

Alcoholism: Breaking it down

Going by the above factors, let's break down alcoholism and see how bad it really is right now.

Society: There are approximately 6.92 Billion people in the world. Out of that six bill, there are about 2 Billion who consume alcoholic beverages to one degree or another. It is estimated that more than 76 Million of those alcohol consumers are afflicted with at least one form of alcoholic disorder (meaning they have an abuse problem of varying degrees). So 20% of those who consume alcohol, have an alcohol problem. That's about every 2 out of 10 people. Which means that there are a lot of people in society effected by alcoholism, even if they aren't the abuser. You could estimate that for every addict, there are at least 3 people that are directly effected by their alcohol problem, which would be around 228,000,000 people.

Health: Alcohol is very particular when it comes to how we digest and metabolize it. Our body works the same to digest it like food, but those processes are wasted because only 20% of the alcohol is actually digested by our stomach. The rest gets dumped right onto your poor small intestine, which sends the rest of the alcohol directly into the blood stream. Once alcohol hits the blood stream, it goes right for it's favorite spot - the bodies watering holes. You might not believe it, but one of the places where the most water is stored in your body, is your brain. The rest is distributed through every one of your organs and then through your body fat and finally into your muscles. Our bodies are 90% water, which means that even though the alcohols power is somewhat diluted with the water, it is much more effective and effecting every part of your body. Women will also want to watch themselves because of this fact, because a woman's body has more water than the average male, for many biological reasons.

Alcohol is rather nasty in that it effects your main organs worse before it gets through the rest of the body, which could probably handle it better. Your liver, spleen, pancreas, heart and brain are some of the first few that will be effect first and they will be hit the hardest because the alcohol has not had as much time to dilute. On top of this, a person with an alcoholic problem will start to get delayed highs, not because of their tolerance level, but because their stomach is now very irritated from the alcohol and will trap it inside itself in an attempt to protect the body. When the stomach does this, it produces a thick layer of protective lining that will protect it for short whiles and eat away at it if the lining isn't digested soon. So someone with a drinking problem will often experience ulcers and small intestine problems and still have to deal with the poisoning of their main organs.

Because of problems created through alcohol abuse, approximately 70,000 people die every year. Most from complications of their abuse, and not from the alcohol itself. This is because the alcohol is a poison, and it kills you through causing failure in your important organs.

Morality: Your morality can vary depending on what you have experience with alcohol. I have found that most alcoholics are much worse than most drug addicts, but that is because I have experienced alcoholics who had worse problems than the people I have met with drug addictions. Which isn't to say that I have not had the unfortunate experience to come across may drug addicts with habits that could rival the worse alcoholics.

To give you a wider view, most societies and religions consider alcoholism to be much better than drug addiction. Though these views might correspond with my own, I still find the morality of alcoholism to be subjective. It can be worse than drug addiction, and it can be worse.

What does your conscience tell you?

Effects on Others: It is said that more than 200,000 people die from alcohol related illnesses, accidents and problems every year. It is estimated that between 13,000 and 18,000 of those people die from an alcohol related car crash every year, which is approximately one person every 40 minutes. The rest often die from from organ failure, cancer, falling accidents, violence or suicide.

Affordability: In America, around $57 billion is spent on alcohol per year. In Canada, the average is $18 billion. The number is $34.62 billion in Australia. This amount varies according to the economies, but in general, it gives you an idea of how much alcohol is being bought around the world. Just from these three countries, we can see $109 billion going down the tube (literally).

We should also discuss the different types of alcohol.

Wine is considered to be the lightest of the alcohols, as it is not very potent and takes longer to circulate through the body. It is also a lot less processed than most beers or liquors. Even with these factors, most decent wines cost well over what a case of beer or a few bottles of liquor might cost. Which is probably why wine is not nearly as much of a problem as other forms of alcohol.

Beer is a grain alcohol, which means it must be processed and broken down much more than wine, but it is much less refined then liquor. So it effects you less than liquor but more than wine, while at the same time, leaves you with more empty calories than either wine or liquor.

Liquor is the worst of all the categories. It is more commonly known as Hard Alcohol, and it gets it's name because it is much purer than other forms, as well as much more potent. Though these vary characteristics are why hard liquor is so much worse on the body. It takes longer to break down and get out of your system and packs more of a punch for all of your vital organs.

So an addiction to hard liquor is much worse than wine or beer in terms of health. An addiction to wine or hard alcohol is worse than beer in terms of money spent. While beer is much worse of an addiction simply because it is much easier to afford and digest.

Drugs: Breaking it down...

Health: Because there are so many different types of drugs (of which alcohol should truly be included), let's break things down even further in this section.

How many people die each year from drugs?

Heroine - 6500 people
Cocaine - 2800 people
Meth - 3000 people
Esctacy/Ebombs - 60 people
Acid/LSD - 5 people (none die from overdose, most from suicide)
Prescription Drugs/Pharmaceuticals - 200,000 people
Shrooms - 3 people (most from misidentifying mushroom/eating poisonous mushrooms or from a bad trip. None died from the correct psychadelic mushrooms.)
Tobacco - 1 Million people
Marijuana/Cannabis - 0 People

So that's 1,212,368 people per year that die from various types of drugs. As you can see from this short list, some of these drugs have faster and more debilitating effects (like pharmaceuticals or tobacco), where others show very little harm (like marijuana, shrooms or LSD). Everything can be abused. There are also many in these numbers who aren't counted for mixing drugs, dying from the drug war or from illnesses caused by these substances.

Social: Most societies around the world have prohibited one form of drug or another, and for many different reasons. None of them have thus far proved to be good or just reasons, but they are reasons none the less. As for most of the worlds people, drugs are scrutinized depending on their health consequences and how they affect other people.

Morality: Most societies frown on unnatural substances going into the body. So where shrooms, marijuana or payote might be considered acceptable recreational substances when used responsibly, man-made or synthesized drugs would be a big no-no. Pharmaceuticals, one of the biggest killers, seems to be the only one that has escaped most people's moral judgement, as it is passed on as some form of cure or another. So it isn't until someone is arrested or dies from their pharma addiction, that anyone really thinks twice about it (in most cases).

Effects on Others: The effects that a drug addict has on others can vary from person to person, but in general, it is the same as alcohol. You can count on there being at least 3 people in the addicts life who are adversely effected by the addicts addiction. That's at least 3,637,104 people.

Affordability: There are no exact answers for this in terms of illegal drugs, though through all my research, the most calculated guesstimate I can give you is an average of $36,000 per year just for your average drug addict. We could also guesstimate that approximately 1,600,000 people per year are addicted to drugs, most of which are cigarettes and pharma. That would give us approximately $57.6 billion per year. For pharmaceuticals alone, it's easier to get more precise estimate, as that is usually recorded and comes out to a whopping $278 Billion (or more) per year.

Drugs are expensive! Which is why scoundrels on both the legal and illegal side of the fence make so much from them...

Adding it all up


2 billion people drink, 76 million have an alcohol problem. Because most illegal drug users don't report their usage, we can only truly guess, though from the number of deaths per year, we could say that over 3 million people use drugs (mostly pharmaceuticals). Of those, between 20 to 30% are likely to be addicts, which would be approximately 900,000 people.

Strangely, even though alcohol clearly has an effect on way more people than drugs do, alcohol is often seen as the lesser of two evils. Go figure?


Approximately 70,000 people a year, die from alcohol related illnesses. Keep in mind that this number doesn't include the number of people who see doctors everyday for alcohol related problems. An estimated 1,212,368 people die from drug abuse, most of which is from pharmaceuticals and allergic reactions. Only about a 3rd of that total number is from illegal substances.

So from a life and death perspective, alcohol would appear to have the upper hand, especially in comparison to prescription drugs. Keep in mind though, that while drugs may kill more people, way more people abuse alcohol then drugs. Basically, alcoholism takes longer to kill you then most drugs.

Morality: Most societies take the view that drugs are worse than alcohol, though most of this belief has no logical background to it. Either way, it counts. Which gives another point to alcohol.

Effects on Other People:

At least 228,213,000 are effected by alcoholics and their abuse. At least 2,700,000 people are effected by drug addicts and their abuses. Looks like another point for drugs in this one. Because drugs are not as commonly abused as alcohol, they effect less people. It's also easier to hide many drug problems, which can also account for lower numbers. An alcoholic is pretty noticeable in most cases, where as a drug addiction can go on for years before it's truly noticed.


It looks like we have an estimate of $335.6 billion is spent on drugs per year (and going up in price), and $109 billion is the approximate amount spent of purchasing alcohol. Which gives another point towards alcoholism, for not hitting the pocket book as hard as your average drug addiction. We must consider though, that the costs are mostly this way, because alcohol is legal in almost every part of the world, whereas most drugs are illegal, which raises their value.

So if we go by these statistics, you could say that alcoholism is not as bad as a drug addiction, because it costs less, takes longer to kill a person and is considered more morally acceptable.

Though morals are continually changing and redefining themselves all over the world. So alcohol could be out on it's bum if drugs were not prohibited, were considered more morally acceptable and they weren't as highly valued. Drugs would also get another big push if pharmaceuticals were made better and not pushed on people so often, as that would lower the number of drug related deaths by a ton.

What is worse to be addicted to?

See results

A final note...

I just wanted to add in, that though I worked tirelessly to find the best statistics available, some of these numbers were estimated solely on the lack of information or were calculated from other bits of information that is available. So these numbers are not completely accurate. I encourage you to go and research this interesting question for yourself, and see what you come up with.

For now, tell me how you feel with this fun poll question


Submit a Comment

  • profile image


    5 years ago

    drugs in moderation

    Alcohol in moderation

    thats the answer....

    Its the over use/abuse of both mixed with freak deaths that is the problem. And many other issues relating to the legality of alcohol but this is the simple answer. For me anyway x

  • profile image


    6 years ago

    Alcohol, you drink to much, drive, and kill!! Proven natural tings you can do, drive and make it home ALIVE!!!!!

  • BizGenGirl profile imageAUTHOR


    6 years ago from Lake Stevens

    lol, actually I thought about that before, but I was answering a hub-question that phrased it this way. So that's how I answered it. It's all a matter of perspective

  • profile image


    6 years ago

    ...With all that research you never came across the fact that alcohol is indeed a "drug," huh?

  • SoberNation profile image


    6 years ago from Boca Raton, Fl

    Its tough to say. There are so many variables in this equation that I don't think its possible to come up with a definitive answer. I really respect your research though and love your writing style. I'm a little new here but I'd love to have you come check out my hubs!

  • profile image


    6 years ago

    Hello - I recently made a sizeable order from you and was very pleased with the results of the items I used. As a matter of fact the spell you cast on me really worked so well they were the key factor in getting me healthy again. I saw through using them that the relationship wasn't healthy for me at all. The break-up was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. I've gained strength and peace because of the amulets you sent. Thank you so much. And the spell kit to keep my ex-partner's mother from moving in and harming the emotional health of our 7-year-old worked great, too! Thanks again.Dr.(

  • BizGenGirl profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from Lake Stevens

    Very true, lol

  • profile image

    Arizona Sue 

    7 years ago

    This is like trying to pick your favorite Manendez brother

  • profile image


    7 years ago

    I only know one person who uses marijuana; there is a shortage here and its very expensive so a luxury as very few addicts actually have paid employment. On the other hand we have a glut of amphetamines, though the quality is variable, and there are enough desperate people happy to do a cook or two in their backyard shed. These are the people who fall through the cracks. "Stoned" is someone who is not a casual user, unlike the people who might use ecstasy and other party drugs at weekends an on holidays and who hold down jobs. These are the people who use speed every single day to get through their lives, who drop their kids off at school and go straight to the dealer before going home. People who cannot cope with being sober. This is a serious and fast growing problem that our politicians seem unable to understand, nor do they want to understand as its in the too hard basket.

    Because there are children involved, no one takes any action; there are no foster carers for feral children who do home invasions before they reach school age; there is no justice for people who are mugged or robbed in their homes because it means breaking up the offender's family and there are no foster carers for feral kids; appallingly bad neighbours are left where they are because you do not make a family with children homeless regardless of what that family does. I have seen my next door neighbours floor, covered with nearly two foot of garbage, moving like the sea as rodents run around feeding off the debris of takeaways, and they complain that rodents nibble their extremities during the night. They are covered in sores, usually golden staph, from sharing needles, beds, and anything else you can think of, and who rarely shower or clean themselves, let alone change their clothes or have bedding on those beds. when it is far too dirty or smelly for even them to cope with, it goes out in the rubbish and they go to a charity for more. These people are rarely sober, have little or no life skills to the point where they have to be taught to brush their teeth and hair, let alone work out a shopping list or budget their money - if they run out of money they steal it. Worse of all, they have no ambitions, they have no hope, and no motivation to do anything about their situation because they have no idea how to take responsibility for their lives. They see no future beyond having more children to get more money for more drugs.

    The government has this idea that by mixing older and/or working law-abiding citizens among the sadder elements of the community we will eventually "civilise" them. Unfortunately all we are is a piggy bank to be ransacked when they need money for drugs.

    My situation is not unique, and there are far worse places than where I live, both in my home state, and elsewhere in other capital cities. Part of the problem is the welfare system, which gives enough to live on if you are very frugal or have enough kids, and which is seen as a right, and this is backed up by various charity groups who do not cross-reference the families or people they help, not even within their own organisations, so those in the know can rort the system. There is no capacity for work; many are functionally illiterate, they do not understand the basic give and take of ordinary life and have no understanding of what is acceptable behaviour. Its a sub-culture that has no rules beyond might is right, and the thought processes of the addicts bears no resemblance to those of non-addicts. There is no right or wrong, just need, regardless of who is harmed in fulfilling that need. When the welfare workers and sociologists come to talk to them, they will say anything and agree to anything to get them off their backs, so many studies are flawed.

    I don't have any answers, and my situation could be much worse. I let no-one through my front door, and I dare not trust anyone. I am armed 24/7; I keep sharpened steel wool combs with 6 inch spikes around the house, and my windows are all booby-trapped to collect DNA. Its not the future I had in mind when younger, any more than my neighbours had ambitions to be addicts or dealers or petty thieves when they were at school and asked what they wanted to be when they grew up. But things have gone from bad to very bad in the last couple of years as drugs have become cheaper, easier to get, and have affected more and more families; life has become far more dangerous for everyone.

  • BizGenGirl profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from Lake Stevens

    Yes, there are many public housing areas here that are full of those with various addictions. I have lived in a few of them in the past, when times got tough. It was hard and scary, though that gave me more motivation to get out of there ASAP.

    Also, I would like to point out, that it has been my experience that very few of the people in these public housing zoos were simply "stoned", unless you are using that for a blanket term to mean "intoxicated" in general. It's rare for a person on a cannabis high to be that neglectful and way more common for someone to simply choose to blame their issues on cannabis, instead of being truthful and admitting they are doing other things. Not to mention, substances don't make people do things, people choose to do things and then blame it on substances they chose to do.

    Still though, that proves my point about these issues being subjective. In your direct experience, drug addicts are way more of a problem then alcoholics. Whereas there are many who have found alcoholics to be much more of a problem then drug addicts. Still others have a mixed bag of experiences.

    Opinions change depending on the people involved and the circumstance. I don't think it's an addiction thing, I think it's a people thing.

  • profile image


    7 years ago

    I live 3 doors up from a drug dealer, my neighbours both sides are addicts, and some of them are psychotic from speed. Not sure whether they were psychotic before or after they started taking speed. They sell their legal anti-psychotic drugs to buy speed, and the doctors cannot get them off the legal drugs they take because they are addicts and its got to the point where its too dangerous to stop them cold turkey, it could kill them. Some of them are on such high doses of Seraquel and Xanax they should be dead. They cannot be put into hospital to get clean because we do not have that sort of facility in the country in which I live - not the USA. Its against an addicts human rights anyway and contravenes some UN regulation or other.

    I had a middle class upbringing like you, but through circumstances live in public housing, and the drug problem is a nightmare that authorities don't even begin to comprehend, let alone tackle. I watch second and third generation addicts walk past my house with their kids to collect their speed on pay day, just like going to the supermarket. The kids don't go to school if there is no lunch money, because the parents cannot cook and are too stoned to go to the shops. They have kids for the extra income it brings in.

    I do not live in a third world country, I live in a first world country and its scary! And I have not even begun to scratch the surface of what goes on in a community affected by drugs.

  • BizGenGirl profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from Lake Stevens

    You make a good point Caroline, though I still feel it depends on the drug of choice (or mixture of), the kind and amount of alcohol and the person who is an addict. Each variable makes a big difference.

    And while I will agree that there are many drug addicts that cause more harm then alcoholics, probably has a lot to do with the fact that alcohol is legal and most drugs are not. The drugs that are legal, are often more of a problem than the illegal ones. I mean, have you ever met a person put on anti-psychotics when they didn't need them?

    There is a lot of complication involved in this topic. It's nice to hear from everyone.

  • profile image


    7 years ago

    Statistics and analysis are completely useless here - we are talking about people, and one drug addict can cause far more damage in his community than one drunk. World-wide there may be more alcohol related deaths, but work in the emergency department of any hospital on a weekend, and you'll unfortunately see which one does the most harm both to the addict and the medical staff trying to save their lives. Then there are the people who are preyed upon to feed those habits ....... I don't think I really need to go on. Unless you actually live among it, its just a social phenomenon and the significant amount of casualties remains hidden. Middle class drug taking is totally different to those addicts who live below the poverty line and drop through the cracks of society.

  • L.L. Woodard profile image

    L.L. Woodard 

    7 years ago from Oklahoma City

    Your passion for the topic is evident. I don't feel that one addiction is any "worse" than another; addictions themselves are sad and difficult to overcome, no matter the substance involved.

  • A.A. Zavala profile image

    Augustine A Zavala 

    7 years ago from Texas

    Vaery informative answer to a complex question. The points were noted, and the information was concise. Thank you for sharing.

  • GNelson profile image


    7 years ago from Florida

    Good work on this hub. Tobacco and prescription drugs both have many lobbist and legislators on there side. Yet the make up 98% of the deaths. And we spend millions jailing people who have some marijuana in their car. If our elected officials were required to make sense most would have to resign.


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