alcohol harms

Data published last week in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs finds that adults are more than six times more likely to acknowledge having experienced secondhand harms because of someone else’s drinking than they are to report having faced similar harms as a result of other people’s cannabis use.

Researchers affiliated with the Alcohol Research Group and RTI International assessed the lifetime prevalence of secondhand harms from alcohol, cannabis, opioids, and other drugs in a nationally representative sample of 7,799 Americans aged 18 and older. Secondhand harms included family/marriage difficulties, traffic accidents, vandalism, physical harm, and financial difficulties.

Respondents were most likely (34.2 percent) to report having experienced secondhand harms from others’ use of alcohol. They were least likely (5.5 percent) to report secondhand harms from someone else’s use of cannabis.

Of those citing secondhand harms from cannabis, many acknowledged hardships arising from its prohibitive status – such as experiencing financial harms because of a failed drug test — rather than from someone else’s misuse of the substance.

“This study provided a first look at the national prevalence of secondhand harms from others’ use of alcohol, cannabis, opioids, and other drugs among U.S. adults,” the study’s authors concluded. “Secondhand harms from others’ alcohol use were substantially more prevalent than those from others’ use of any other drug. … Our estimates for secondhand drug harms were lower than anticipated given … the trend toward recreational cannabis legalization.”

NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said that he was not surprised by the results. “It’s well established that cannabis’ public health effects are far less than those associated with the use of alcohol and most adults now acknowledge this reality.”

Specifically, polling data compiled in April by YouGov reported that just under two-thirds of adults say that the regular use of alcohol and tobacco is “more harmful to a person’s health” than the use of cannabis.

The abstract of the study, “Prevalence and correlates of alcohol and drug harms to others: Findings from the 2020 US National Alcohol Survey,” appears online. A press release about the study is available from the Alcohol Research Group.

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