If alcohol (for consumption) were discovered only recently, wouldn't it be classified an illegal drug?

Alcohol leads to a lot more violent behavior and breakdown in families, violent crimes, dangerous driving, etc. than marijuana, for instance - and can certainly be addictive - yet it’s the latter, marijuana, that is mostly illegal in many nations while the former is perfectly legal.

Aside from thousands and thousands of years of tradition, is there any reason why alcohol should be viewed in a better light than some illegal recreational drugs today?

I would say no.

Then again, I’m one of those nutjobs that thinks there are a lot of intoxicants we should legalize, produce cleanly, in known potency, and tax. Not all, and of course penalties for doing things like driving while high, but a number of them.

At the risk of fighting the hypothetical, it’d have been extremely difficult for our ancestors to not discover alcohol. It’s a naturally occurring side effect of the same fermentation process used to make bread. All it takes to produce it is sugar, water, a warm space, a reasonably clean vessel, and time. You can literally produce drinkable alcohol by accident, which is probably how it was discovered in the first place.

Consider that the modern drug prohibition regime isn’t even obliquely based on the harm done by various substances, but rather on racial and cultural panics of the 20th century. Low-harm drugs like cannabis, mushrooms, and ecstasy are in the most restricted schedules. Higher-harm drugs like cocaine are not.

So when we say “if alcohol were discovered today”, it very much depends on who discovers it and start using it. If it first gained notoriety with fusty old white men, nobody would have much of an issue saying lots of people drink and have no problem without issue, so it’s really a matter of personal responsibility.

But if beer were discovered by adolescents or young adults, especially those who aren’t white, the New York Times would publish a story called “CrazyGrain: What Parents Need To Know About The Deadly New Inner-City Drug That Destroys Futures.”

But yes, not to fight the OP, if we truly legislated drugs according to their harms, we would never tolerate the drugs that are truly destructive independent of how they are criminalized – mainly I’m thinking alcohol, nicotine, meth, cocaine. Cannabis would be freely available to 21+, things like ecstasy or mushrooms would just require an operator’s license and a bi-annual physical/mental exam, heroin would be available by prescription and closely monitored by the prescriber who would help manage and treat any possible addiction complications.

Since, I assume, you are talking about John Ehrlichman’s admissions it is impossible not to agree with you.

“You want to know what this was really all about?” Ehrlichman asked, referring to the war on drugs.

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news.”

“Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did,” he concluded, according to Baum.

Top Nixon adviser reveals the racist reason he started the ‘war on drugs’ decades ago

The OP asks about “would” in the title and “should” in the posting.

I’m sure it would be classified illegal.

As far as what should be classified illegal, I think alcohol is a relatively harmful recreational drug. If many drugs are going to be outlawed, alcohol should be outlawed. But what we should do depends on what strategies are likely to achieve what goals, which is a huge and open ended question.

Alcohol can certainly be used responsibly - I’m guessing there are lots of people who have a glass of wine with dinner and have never ever been > 0.08. Though there is also the glorification of binge drinking where people brag about getting sick… On the gripping hand there were/are? times and places where drinking alcohol was/is safer than drinking the water.
Responsible MJ use seems possible (though smoking it affects people not involved), I’m not sure about, say, heroin.
From a pure epidemiological perspective a new substance with the same potency as alcohol would likely be controlled. Prescription needed? I’m not sure the possible benefits of red wine are also there in grape juice or not.


From a practical standpoint, you can’t make alcohol illegal. We already learned that lesson the hard way. The raw materials to make it are just food, and it takes no particular effort, expertise, or equipment to make it. When a drug comes only from one specific species of plant, as many of them do, especially if that plant grows only in a specific climate, you can try to control the import of that specific plant, or of the finished product shipped from wherever the plant grows. But you can’t do that with alcohol.

Nitpick: You absolutely CAN make alcohol illegal and we did.

What you can’t do (and we couldn’t), is enforce your edict with any sort of consistency or effectiveness

Uh… so how’s that working out? From where I sit, it’s not working at all. Enforcement is every bit as leaky and selectively prosecuted as alcohol was during prohibition. The only reason white Americans tolerate it is that their drugs remain relatively easy to get, and the enforcement consequences fall overwhelmingly on nonwhite and non-American people.

Drug laws have nothing to do with public health. They have always been instruments of white supremacy. The failure of alcohol prohibition is the exception that proves the rule. Prohibition harmed white people, so it had to be repealed.

Uh, yeah. I’ve done that. Haven’t you? Hasn’t everyone?

Mine is usually in the form of a jug of (sweet) cider that i neglected in the fridge.

If ethyl alcohol was a substance that was difficult to produce, needing a skilled chemist to do so, and only arriving on the scene now, it would never get approved as a legit pharmaceutical. It’s incredibly toxic, both in the short and long term. It’s a direct cause of premature heart, brain, liver, kidney, and other organ diseases. Chronic use of it is associated with high risk for pneumonia, internal hemorrhage, physical trauma, violence, and death. The “therapeutic window” for purported beneficial effects is quite small so it’s easy to overdose. Any drug with its toxicity profile and lack of clear cut benefits would never be approved today.

But since it’s easy to come by and part of the human experience for many millennia, it will always be with us.

One difference is that there are lots of people who partake of alcoholic drinks because they like the taste, and not because of alcohol’s effect on them. This is not the case with any “illegal recreational drugs” that I know of. Does anyone smoke marijuana because they like the taste?

Also, historically, there have been times when people drank wine or beer because it was safer to drink than water.

And speaking of “historically,” it’s my understanding that the ill effects of alcohol, like the ones mentioned in the OP, have been a big problem in some societies but practically unknown in others; and that this has to do partly with different peoples’ genetic susceptibility to alcoholism, and partly to the way alcohol is viewed and used in the culture. So one could argue that alcohol isn’t universally dangerous; it only becomes so when combined with certain genetic or cultural factors.

Most research in this area points toward alcohol being an acquired taste, that acquisition being most associated first with an enjoyment of the effects of an alcoholic beverage.

This study on taste confirms that ethanol, the compound common to all alcoholic beverages, is generally aversive as it primarily elicits bitterness and irritation when ingested.

It’s a terrible pharmaceutical when taken internally. But it’s still a pretty good choice as a topical antiseptic, especially since its toxicity is lower for humans than for most other organisms (though granted, that lower toxicity to humans is because we have in fact been using it for a very long time, long enough for such resistance to evolve).

Not fighting the hypothetical- Yes it would absolutely be made illegal.

Remember the XFL? One of the first quarterbacks for an XFL team almost made it to the NFL. He was cut from the NFL because he was addicted to marijuana. I remember reading the article about him because it was the first time I’d ever heard of somebody being addicted to marijuana. In all my years as a patient in the mental health system, I’ve only met one person who was addicted to marijuana. This means, I could fit all the marijuana addicts that I know of in my kitchen.

I coudln’t fit all the alcoholics I’ve met in my entire apartment. Alcohol can be an extremely addictive and dangerous substance.

On thinking about it some more, surely part of the reason why alcohol is so addictive is that it’s so easily available?

Not the only reason, of course: It’s certainly physically addictive in a way that many drugs aren’t. But being able to buy it at any corner store surely makes things even worse.

I think comparisons to illegal drugs are fine, but let’s compare it, instead, to another widespread legal recreational drug - tobacco. I mean, we know that shit’s addictive and kills people, yet it’s still legal (upcoming NZ legislation notwithstanding).

Not even for the niche uses, like as a methanol antidote?

Yes, but the harm from tobacco is mostly all long term, which is why it took so long to demonstrate that it was so harmful.

I would dispute that this is the case. People partake in alcoholic drinks in spite of the taste. Then the dopamine receptors work their magic and create an unexplained craving, which the conscious mind interprets as “I want more of this… I don’t think I’m responding to an addictive drug, so it must be the flavor. Mmmmm, yummy notes of oak and leather, that’s what I’m talking about.”

Most people hate alcohol the first time they drink it, unless it’s mixed with something that hides the flavor. The ethanol itself burns, wine tastes like rotten fruit, beer is reminiscent of raw bread dough… until the body learns “this is how you get pleasant jolts to your receptors for dopamine, opiods, and NMDA.” Then the conscious mind decides hey, rotten fruit can be pretty good.