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As an orange county rehab and detox, we’ve listened to our community voice their concerns about illicit substances, from how easy they are to attain to how deadly, addictive, and unregulated they can be in our communities. From heroin to prescription opioids and synthetic drugs like spice and bath salts, it’s shocking that drugs with such scary reputations often overshadow the most deadly drug of all, however. A meta-analysis of the death rates, use rates, and societal harm of addictive drugs found that 4 substances were considered “high risk” to individuals, meaning very toxic and easy to overdose on. Of those 4 substances, only one was considered “high risk” on a population scale, meaning users pose a significant risk to those around them. Worst of all—this drug comes in candy flavors like cherry and cinnamon, which can disguise just how dangerous it is.

Yes, Alcohol is a Drug

It’s easy to forget but the over-the-counter ethanol alcohol we drink is a potent drug, and is still a leading cause of accidental deaths, property damage, and overdose. The complacency our society has with alcohol also means we forget just how serious the consequences of its use can be. As a drug, alcohol can have mixed reactions with other chemicals. Certain pain relievers, when mixed with alcohol, can damage the stomach lining, while others can increase the rate of intoxication.

Alcohol is also a depressant drug, so when combining with other depressant drugs it can create an adverse reaction. Mixing alcohol with sleeping pills or opiates can cause your body processes to slow down such as slowing or stalling your heart, or causing respiratory failure.

Alcohol’s Surprise Risk: Bioavailability.

The legal limit for alcohol is defined by blood alcohol level, but with different concentrations, body weights and heights, and a number of other variables… it becomes impossible to figure out exactly what your limit is. The bioavailability of a drug is the percentage that our bodies actually absorb and process. The bioavailability of alcohol is shockingly around roughly 80%. This means that the majority of the alcohol you drink will be processed by your body and therefore enter your blood.

Factors like tolerance, the sugar content of the drink, and your individual health habits can all change just how intensely you “feel” the effects of the alcohol, but none of those changes the amount of alcohol that actually enters your blood. This means you could be at intoxicated levels without feeling too bad, or you could be seriously impaired with small doses.

Reducing the Danger of Alcohol

Alcohol has a very intimate relationship with so many aspects of American culture. All attempts at banning alcohol have always backfired, forcing distributors to focus on stronger, more profitable variations, making the problem even worse. But light, recreational drinking isn’t the true issue. Addiction is.

You don’t make the choice to drive under the influence unless a number of thresholds have already been crossed. You have to have drunk more than your limit—showing either a misunderstanding of alcohol, or an explicit choice to disobey that limit. It also means either underestimating the danger of DUI or choosing the risk despite the consequences.

Some areas have seen reductions in drunk driving accidents as much as 25-35% by introducing ride-sharing services, like Uber and Lyft. Despite this, drunk driving is still a cause of over 10,000 deaths a year. If you frequently find yourself in dangerous situations because of alcohol, it’s urgent that you seek treatment immediately. While ride-sharing and designated drivers are great short-term options, moderation and sobriety are ultimately the goal, and a proper treatment program can get you there.