With the current emphasis on living a healthy lifestyle, we mostly hear about the importance of eating right, exercising, and not smoking. We hear much less about the harms of consuming too much alcohol. In moderation, alcohol appears to have some health benefits. However, alcohol abuse continues to be a major public health problem because many people do not follow the guidelines for safe consumption of alcohol (one drink for women, two for men).
Hangovers aside, few substances inflict such a substantial toll on our society. Domestic violence, child abuse, car crashes, violent crimes, and vandalism and other neighborhood disturbances often result from excessive alcohol consumption. In individuals, drinking too much for too long can lead to cancer, cardiovascular disease, diseases of the liver, dementia and other neurological problems, and depression. Reducing the burden of excessive alcohol consumption requires political will to pass effective policies, and resources to educate the public and enforce existing laws.
The Guide to Community Preventive Services recommends several evidence-based policies to reduce excessive consumption in the general population. These include:
• Dram shop liability laws that make alcohol retailers liable for harms inflicted by a customer,
• Alcohol excise taxes,
• Limits on the days and hours that alcohol can be sold, and
• Limits on the density of outlets that sell alcohol,
The Community Guide also recently published a recommendation against the further privatization of alcohol retailers, and also recommends a number of policies and practices to reduce alcohol-impaired driving.
In addition, Partnership for Prevention’s National Commission on Prevention Priorities found screening for alcohol misuse and brief counseling by healthcare providers to be a highly cost-effective clinical preventive service.
In light of Alcohol Awareness Month, drinking responsibly and in appropriate amounts is crucial for our own health and the health of our society.
Alyson Hazen Kristensten, MPH
Senior Fellow and Program Officer