Equating Alcohol, Drugs No Societal Insult, but Reality

By Wicker, Thomas | THE JOURNAL RECORD, May 23, 1987 | Go to article overview

Equating Alcohol, Drugs No Societal Insult, but Reality


Wicker, Thomas, THE JOURNAL RECORD


NEW YORK - ``To equate the consumption of alcoholic beverages with illegal drugs is a societal insult.''

So writes a reader who objected to a recent article in this space about the positive cocaine testing of Dwight Gooden, the pitching star of the New York Mets.

Apparently a lot of readers agree with the sentiment quoted. A remarkably repeated theme of numerous responses to that article was that drugs and alcohol are different because the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages are legal.

``You should remember,'' advised one of these letters, ``that alcohol, though certainly a killer, is not illegal.''

These letter-writers (there were quite a few) seem to me to protest too much. Perhaps they know in their hearts, and whatever their own habits, that alcoholic beverages are just what I said they were: ``A far more widely used (than cocaine) and equally addictive poison that knows no limits of age and era.''

That's not a societal insult; that's a fact. I'm grateful to Dr. Lawrence Wallack of the University of California's School of Public Health at Berkeley, who writes:

``Alcohol . . . is the direct cause of 80,000 to 100,000 deaths annually and contributes to another 100,000 deaths. The leading cause of death for teens is alcohol-related automobile crashes.''

In sharp contrast, only 3,562 lives were known to be lost in 1985 from use of all illegal drugs combined - a figure provided by Thomas V. Sessel of the National Council on Alcoholism. Sessel points out further that the economic cost to society of alcohol problems is ``about twice that of all other drug problems.''

Any family with an alcoholic member can substantiate not only the economic but the social and emotional costs of alcohol abuse; since alcoholism is the more frequent problem, these costs are greater in sum, if not in degree, than those caused by abuse of any or all illegal drugs. Employers know, moreover, that if illegal drug use on the job is a serious problem, so is alcoholism - which is more widespread in the workplace, and has been for a longer time.

Crime, too, is heavily the product of alcohol use. The illegal distribution of cocaine may be the meat on which television and movie producers are feasting nowadays; but persons influenced by alcohol, legal or otherwise, always have been a major source of crime and violence, and continue to be. …

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