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The Deadliest Drugs Are Legal

People are becoming increasingly aware of the opioid crisis in the US. Last year, about 60,000 Americans died from overdoses involving opioids–more than violent crime, car accidents, and terrorism combined. It’s a shocking statistic and many governors, at least, are taking the opioid crisis very seriously. What may be surprising is that opioids are not even close to the most lethal drugs in America. Two other drugs kill many more people every year and they are legal.

Alcohol is responsible for about 88,000 deaths in the US every year. That’s about 47 percent more than opioids. There are a number of ways alcohol can kills you. It can kill you quickly, through alcohol poisoning or accidents, or it can kill you slowly through liver disease, cardiovascular disease, dementia, and cancer. Alcohol is involved in about 10,000 fatal car accidents every year, which is about 30 percent of fatal car accidents. In many cases, of course, it’s not only the intoxicated person who dies.

Alcohol also significantly increases your risk of cancer, especially of the liver, mouth, throat, esophagus, breast, and colon. Alcohol is metabolized into an intermediate product called acetaldehyde, which is carcinogenic. It’s most concentrated in the liver and in the colon, where alcohol is metabolized by gut bacteria. Since alcohol also reduced immune function, cells damaged by acetaldehyde are more likely to become cancerous and multiply.

Tobacco is even more deadly. Tobacco kills about 480,000 Americans every year, which is eight times the number of people killed by opioids. Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in the US and is responsible for one fifth of all deaths. This includes about 41,000 deaths every year from secondhand smoke. Death from tobacco is typically caused by cancer, heart disease, stroke, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. Smoking while drinking increases risk of mouth and throat cancer more than either alone.

Smoking and drinking are also major factors in relapse. Most people are aware that drinking can lead to relapse, even if alcohol isn’t your drug of choice. 12-step programs in particular emphasize the importance of abstaining from alcohol in recovery. Unfortunately, less attention has been paid to the role of smoking in relapse. A Columbia study found that smokers were almost twice as likely to relapse as nonsmokers. Despite this, few treatment programs offer help to quit smoking and more than half of 12-step members smoke, most of them heavily. It’s likely then, that smoking and drinking contribute to the number of fatal opioid overdoses as well.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, Gardens Wellness Center can help you detox and decide on a treatment strategy. Call us today at 844-325-9168 or email us at to learn more.