Alcohol on the Opiom Act?

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Alcohol is not listed on the Opium Act, the Dutch act which prohibits the possession and use of harmful drugs such as cocaine and xtc. Alcohol is not defined as a hard drug in the Opium Act, however, alcohol is one of the most harmful substances to human beings, especially when used excessively.1 Widely known are the health risks that are paired with an addiction to alcohol, some of them are an increased risk of cancer or heart- and vascular diseases.2

Health risks

According to the government, hard drugs harbour acute dangers and that is exactly the difference between alcohol and hard drugs.3 Alcohol is not considered a hard drug by the government, because, in their eyes, it is not deemed to cause acute danger against which the citizens should be protected. Moreover, the fact that drinking a few beers is considered to be okay in contrast to the use of hard drugs – which is much less accepted – shows that alcohol has a socially accepted image.

Yet, this is doubtful. A recent study shows that alcohol is the most harmful supplement to our health, together with heroin and crack.4 Supporting this finding; alcohol is found to be responsible for the most deaths worldwide.5 But how can it be explained that alcohol is still consumed in such large quantities? Why is there no ban on the sale and use of alcohol yet?

First, such a prohibition will be worked against by most citizens. Alcohol has been consumed for so long that it, most probably, won’t be accepted if it is suddenly banned. In other words, alcohol is so deeply woven into our culture that it seems rather impossible to ban it.6 In addition, the economic interests will also form an obstacle to a total ban on alcohol.7

Call for legislation?

Taking the health risks into account, we can consider alcohol consumption to be at least as harmful as hard drugs. This is one of the reasons why the government is stressing that we are dealing with a serious problem, especially because (excessive) alcohol consumption among young people has increased in recent years.8

In a letter from the government, Secretary of State for Education, Welfare and Sport Van Ooijen expresses his concerns and acknowledges the ‘problematic use of alcohol’.9 For example, the Secretary of State mentions that there is a strong social norm accompanying alcohol consumption: drinking = fun and part of life. Despite this recognition, the label ‘drugs’ is not attached to alcohol. Although this is not the case, it is not fair to say that the government is not doing anything to reduce the dangers of alcohol.

For example, discounts higher than 25% on alcohol are no longer allowed, which is stated in the renewed Alcohol Act (article 2a). Another novelty is a guideline for liquor stores: they may not sell products and services other than alcoholic beverages, such as glasses or corkscrews (article 4a). The responsibility for the age verification of liquor stores and supermarkets has also been tightened (article 20a).

Additionally, The National Prevention Agreement (an agreement which focuses on stimulating a healthy lifestyle) is clear: the percentage of excessive alcohol users must be reduced from 8.9% to 5%.10 Next to that there are several health organisations calling for tougher measures like limiting advertising or reducing the availability of alcohol.11

Pros and cons

The key question is: should alcohol indeed be labelled as hard drugs in order to impose a total ban? There are plenty of arguments that favour a ban on alcohol. Firstly, alcohol undeniably entails many physical and mental disorders, so it should be included in the Opium Act. Another valid argument for alcohol to be included in the Opium Act is that hard drugs like cocaine and heroin are prohibited, therefore alcohol should be banned as well when one considers, for example, social problems. Addiction to alcohol increases the pressure on care, there are many deaths in traffic each year and violence against aid workers is increasing.

On the other hand, in the case of a total ban on alcohol one could argue that every harmful substance must then also be banned. Think of substances like tobacco and coffee. After all, drugs are substances that stimulate the brain or influence pathways in the brain and thereby cause stimulating, narcotic or consciousness-altering effects. A total ban on coffee and tobacco therefore also would make sense. Furthermore, is it not up to citizens themselves to decide what they want and do not want to consume? Ultimately, every individual is entitled to his or her own piece of freedom!

Now it is up to you: should there be a total ban on alcohol?

Teun van Dam


[1] ‘Is alcohol volgens de wet een harddrug?’, via

[2] ‘Is alcohol volgens de wet een harddrug?’, via

[3] ‘Is alcohol drugs?’, via

[4] ‘Ranking van drugs’, via

[5] ‘Is alcohol drugs?’, via

[6] ‘Wist je dat alcohol eigenlijk een harddrug is?’, via

[7] ‘Is alcohol drugs?’, via

[8] ‘Problematisch alcoholgebruik’, via

[9] ‘Problematisch alcoholgebruik’, via

[10] ‘Maatregelen Nationaal Preventieakkoord’, via

[11] ‘Oproep aan Tweede Kamer: zet in op alcohol-maatregelen die werken’, via


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