“Alcohol is a Poison”

A poison is any substance that is capable of causing injury, illness or death to an organism. 1 Salt, water and oxygen are all poisons because in high enough quantities they can harm people. Too much salt in a diet can cause serious health problems, hyper hydration can kill athletes, and too much oxygen given to a premature infant can cause permanent blindness.

Toxicologists emphasize that “the dosage makes the poison.” Although salt, water, oxygen, aspirin, alcohol beverages, and many other substances can cause poisoning in excessive amounts, it makes no sense to call them poisons.


“ETHYL ALCOHOL IS A POISON. No intelligent person knowingly ingests poison unless they want to die prematurely.” 4

So why do so many groups and organizations insist on calling alcohol a poison? Apparently to stigmatize alcoholic beverages and frighten people into alcohol abstinence. The tactic was first used effectively by the Anti-Saloon League, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the KKK and other anti-alcohol groups. 2 The technique is still widely used today. 3

Honest communication doesn’t mislead or deceive. Calling alcohol a poison is misleading and deceptive.


  • 1. Department of Environmental Health & Safety, University of Michigan. Poison. (http://www.dehs.umn.edu/homeiaq/glossary_frame.html#p); Natural Resources Defense Council. Poison (http://www.nrdc.org/reference/glossary/p.asp); Wikipedia. Poison (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poison)
  • 2. Hanson, David J. Preventing Alcohol Abuse: Alcohol, Culture, and Control. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995. See also The Ku Klux Klan (KKK), Alcohol, and Prohibition. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) insisted that “Medical writers, without exception, class alcohol as a poison.” However, the scientists of the Committee of Fifty for the Investigation of the Liquor Problem reported that this was an erroneous assertion. Billings, John S., et al. (for the Committee of fifty for the Investigation of the Liquor Problem). Physiological Aspects of the Liquor Problem. Boston & NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1903. However, even today, the WCTU insists that “alcohol is a poison” (www.wctu.org/hearing_alcoholhealthclaims.html) as does the Prohibition National Committee of the Prohibition Party (http://www.prohibition.org/statesman_200406.PDF). It insists that “ETHYL ALCOHOL IS A POISON. No intelligent person knowingly ingests poison unless they want to die prematurely.”
  • 3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and SAMHSA’s National Clearinghouse for Alcohol & Drug Information. Black History Month. “Alcohol is a toxin or poison.“ (http://www.health.org/seasonal/blackhistory/diabetes.aspx); Students Against Destructive Decisions or SADD (formerly Students Against Drunk Driving) Silent Killer. “Alcohol is a poison.”(http://bhs.broo.k12.wv.us/BHS/Clubs/SADD/A-Poising.htm); Washington State Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking. “alcohol is a poison” (http://6clearinghouse.adhl.org/
    campaigns/ruad/ed_art.html); Parent Resources and Information on Drug Education (PRIDE) Alcohol alert “Alcohol is a poison“(http://www.pride.org/alcohol.htm); the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. “Alcohol is a poison.” (http://news.adventist.org/data/2000/04/0959715024/index.html)
  • 4. Prohibition National Committee - Prohibition Party. The National Statesman, 2004, 70(4), 3 (http://www.prohibition.org/statesman_200406.PDF).