Study highlights misconceptions

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

March 29, 2007 Ed Cartoon

A recent U.K. study tried assessing the health and social risk factors of certain drugs, ranking them from the most harmful to the least.

While tobacco was surprisingly low on the list considering its long-term effects, alcohol was ranked higher, along with heroin and cocaine. Ecstasy, despite its negative media portrayal, was third from the bottom while street methadone was ranked fourth.

At the very least, the study revealed some common misconceptions about drugs.

It’s surprising something like ecstasy ranked so low on the list, considering the notoriety the drug has gained in the media. Sure, we know tobacco and alcohol are bad for us, but ecstasy can kill you " easily and quickly, if you believe everything you hear.

Where do the misconceptions stem from?

Alcohol and tobacco have been legal long enough to have gained significant social acceptability (though, clearly, tobacco’s popularity and acceptability have dwindled over the years).

But few would immediately associate alcohol and hard drugs like heroin in terms of unravelling one’s life. The “fear of the unknown” might contribute to the widespread misconceptions; alcohol and tobacco are around us everyday, our parents and friends use it, and they seem fine. But you don’t see people snorting cocaine or shooting heroin in the middle of a bar.

Perhaps misconceptions regarding drugs and alcohol are further embellished by associating specific lifestyles with specific drugs, like rave culture or upper-class social circles.

After all, what seems worse? A bunch of 20-somethings popping pills and partying all night, engaging in who-knows-what debauchery, or Dad coming home from work every night and polishing off 10 beers before bed? For many people, the latter doesn’t generate the same negative reaction as the former.

Regardless, the study must be taken with a grain of salt. It considers various factors to determine the detriment each drug doles out, but is the weighing process skewed? Does it distinguish between moderation and abuse? Tobacco and alcohol both rank higher than ecstasy on the list, but would you rather have mom or dad take a few cigarette drags nightly, or pop some “E”?

As is often the case, education seems to be the key. In recent years, there has been noticeably increased emphasis on the ramifications of alcohol and tobacco abuse. Education " honest education, not misinformation or sensationalism via high schools or media " needs to continue with the other drugs on the list.

Whether or not one wants to admit it, people will experiment with drugs and alcohol. Denying that is simply turning a blind eye. But making people aware of their effects and ramifications will only increase safety, be it if people choose to avoid abuse, ensure drugs of choice are “clean,” or decline to participate altogether.

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