Alcohol Education Program: Reduce Consumption in Your Community
What Is Excessive Alcohol Consumption?
According to the CDC, excessive alcohol consumption includes:
- Binge Drinking, defined as 4 or more drinks per occasion for women and 5 or more for men
- Heavy Drinking, defined as 8 or more drinks per week for women and 15 or more for men
- Any drinking by pregnant women or minors under 21
The agency conducted a survey between 2009 and 2011 which revealed that roughly 30% of American adults report excessive drinking.
Is Excessive Drinking the Same Thing as Alcohol Dependence?
As the CDC survey revealed, most excessive drinkers do not have an alcohol use disorder. Excessive consumption isn't the same thing as alcoholism or alcohol dependency, though both can fairly be called a "drinking problem."
Excessive drinking is a pattern of behavior, while alcoholism (formally known as "alcohol use disorder" or AUD) is a medical condition with symptoms like:
- Strong cravings for alcohol like the inability to think of anything but how much you want a drink
- Withdrawal symptoms like shakiness, restlessness, trouble sleeping, nausea, sweating, a racing heart, or seizures
- Inability to control your drinking, including the inability to cut out drinking, drinking more or longer than intended, and continuing to drink despite serious negative consequences
Only 3.5% of US adults fit the DSM-IV definition of alcohol dependency – roughly 10% of excessive drinkers.
Why Does Excessive Drinking Matter?
Excessive drinkers – with or without a clinical dependency problem – often have alcohol-related problems that hurt their health, their social lives, and their work. Some have legal problems, as well.
Added together, these individual problems amount to a serious problem for a community. Excessive drinking is associated with violence, unintentional injuries, sexually transmitted infections, and unwanted pregnancy.
Between 2015 and 2019 in the U.S., excessive alcohol use was responsible for over 140,000 deaths and 3.5 million lost years of life per year.
One study estimated that in 2010, excessive drinking created almost $250 billion in economic costs, including healthcare, productivity losses, property damage, criminal justice costs, and costs related to fetal alcohol syndrome. Over 70% of these costs were from binge drinking, specifically.
How To Reduce Alcohol Consumption
There are a lot of ways to reduce alcohol consumption in your community.
Require Alcohol Education Programs for Sellers & Servers
The frontline of enforcement for alcohol safety isn't a state's Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) agency. Instead, it's usually the bartender that makes the judgment call to cut a patron off or the corner store clerk that needs to know how to spot a fake ID.
That's why responsible alcohol seller/server training is so critical to reducing the amount of excessive drinking in your community. Training programs aimed at bartenders, waitstaff, and store clerks typically focus on:
- How their role impacts public safety
- Relevant federal, state, and local laws that apply to their job
- The liability that seller-servers have for the acts of their customers (if applicable)
- Factors that impact alcohol absorption and blood alcohol content
- How to check IDs and recognize a fake ID
- Behavioral cues to recognize a minor trying to buy alcohol directly or through a second party
- How to recognize someone too intoxicated to purchase more alcohol
Skills-based seller/server training like TIPS goes beyond just discussing this information. These alcohol education programs arm sellers and servers with strategies for evaluating cues and choosing the best responses. They also provide opportunities for practice in the classroom.
Some state and local jurisdictions either mandate or incentivize businesses to train their employees using an approved alcohol education program. However, even when training isn't legally required, businesses should require it. Training programs reduce a business's liability, reduce their insurance rates, and minimize the criminal and civil penalties they face.
Hold Alcohol Retailers Liable for Customers' Actions
Many jurisdictions have so-called Dram Shop Laws, which hold businesses that sell alcohol liable for any harm caused by overly intoxicated customers, particularly if they ignored or violated warning signs of intoxication or underage drinking.
This encourages businesses to balance public safety with their bottom line. Dram shop liability is a large part of the reason that business owners set policies to prevent excessive drinking, including the employee training we discussed above. The CDC's task force on excessive alcohol prevention concluded that dram shop laws are an effective alcohol safety measure.
Place Additional Restrictions on Alcohol Retail
The CDC's task force also found that restricting alcohol sales or making them more expensive can also be effective interventions, including:
- Regulating the density of alcohol outlets in your community
- Limiting the days and hours for the legal sale of alcohol
- Increasing taxes on alcoholic beverages at the federal, state, or local level
The fact that making alcohol less readily available reduces excessive drinking probably shouldn't be a surprise, but the CDC did its homework.
Establishing Alcohol Prevention Programs in Your Community
There are many models for effective alcohol prevention programs that you can implement in your community.
The most obvious is alcohol education programs for the general public, which can have a range of positive impacts. Effective alcohol education for minors can reduce or delay the onset of underage drinking and set them up for a healthier relationship with alcohol in adulthood. Programs for adults often focus on reducing the harms associated with alcohol use: minimizing binge drinking, preventing drunk driving, and raising awareness of alcohol dependency.
There are plenty of other ways to tackle the problem, however, like screening and early intervention programs, making proven treatments more widely available, consistently enforcing alcohol-related laws, providing effective interventions for people who commit alcohol-related infractions, reducing advertisements and marketing of alcohol, and increasing the number of alcohol-free social events.
Ultimately, a community needs a variety of alcohol prevention programs in place to increase alcohol safety.