(CBS/AP) What's worse for us, alcohol or crack cocaine? Careful - this isn't a no-brainer.
A new study says alcohol is more destructive than illegal drugs like heroin and crack.
British scientists, lead by Dr. David Nutt at the University of Bristol, evaluated these three drugs, as well as ecstasy and marijuana (20 drugs in all), ranking each of them on the following criteria: physical harm to the user, how addictive it is, and the effect of its use on families, communities, and society.
They included economic costs like health care, social services, and prison.
Heroin, crack and crystal meth are deadliest to the individual user, the study showed, but when their wider social effects are taken into account, alcohol is the most damaging, followed by heroin and crack.
Experts said alcohol scored so high because it's so widely used and has devastating consequences not only for drinkers but for those around them. Excessive drinking damages nearly all organ systems, and is also connected to higher death rates. It's also involved in a greater percentage of crime than most other drugs, including heroin.
Marijuana, ecstasy and LSD scored far lower, according to the study, published in the "The Lancet."
Experts said the study should prompt countries to reconsider how they classify drugs. Last year, Britain increased its penalties for the possession of marijuana.
Some experts were critical of that decision, including Dr. Nutt. He was fired from his position as the U.K. chief drugs adviser soon after.
"What governments decide is illegal is not always based on science," says Leslie King, an adviser to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and one of the study's authors. "Drugs that are legal cause at least as much damage, if not more, than drugs that are illicit."