Does more social damage result from drinking alcohol or using illegal drugs? Could trying marijuana actually lead to stronger drug use? Utilizing data from four decades of U.S. government drug use surveys, an extensive and easy-to-use collection of charts has just been created to answer these questions, and more.

The Brian C. Bennett Drug Charts provide a more accurate and illuminating picture of the use and abuse of drugs in America. The visual data components break down people’s habits consuming alcohol, amphetamines, cocaine, crack cocaine, hallucinogens, heroin, inhalants, LSD, marijuana, MDMA, methamphetamines, nonmedical prescription pills, nonmedical prescription pain relievers, oxycontin, PCP, sedatives, stimulants and tranquilizers.

"The Bennett charts graphically illustrate the natural course of the use of psychoactive drugs," William Martin, director of the Baker Institute's Drug Policy Program, and Katharine Neill, the Alfred C. Glassell III Postdoctoral Fellow in Drug Policy at the Baker Institute, wrote in an issue brief called "Drugs by the Numbers: The Brian C. Bennett Drug Charts."

"Most people who ever use such drugs stop using them shortly after initiation or a period of (usually brief) experimentation. As the introduction to the collection explains, this pattern is closely correlated with age, with illicit drug use (and other risky behaviors) reaching a peak between 18 and 20, declining sharply by age 26 and then dropping gradually over the rest of the lifespan,” the researchers explained. “This calls into question policies that levy harsh penalties and apply indelible criminal records to people for what may be experimental or incidental use likely to stop on its own in the normal course of maturation without treatment, 12-step programs or relapse. More rational and compassionate responses exist and deserve close attention.”

The charts also show that alcohol causes significantly more personal and social damage than any other substance, and marijuana’s reputation as a “gateway” drug is not supported. Interestingly, traumatic childhood experience, mental illness and economic insecurity are more telling predictors of substance abuse than availability of the drugs.

Additionally, the Bennett charts show that problematic drug use has been stable in the U.S. for decades — questioning the success of the war on drugs.

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