Alcohol abuse and alcoholism have a huge cost, not just for individuals and their families, but for society in general. It is estimated that the annual cost of alcohol abuse in the United States is hundreds of billions of dollars.
Excessive drinking can lead not only to alcoholism for the individual, but also to many other illnesses, as well as mental and behavioral disorders. This can lead to injury, social harm, family disruption, unemployment, and legal and financial problems.
Alcohol abuse leads to higher health care and associated costs for individuals and society. This leads to lost productivity, lost years of life and many other related costs.
The most effective way to deal with the costs of alcohol use disorder to society is to prevent individuals from developing abusive drinking patterns. This can prove difficult as people start drinking for different reasons and under many different circumstances.
Of course, much of today’s prevention efforts are aimed at teenagers, because that’s when most people in our culture start drinking for the first time, and if they start drinking early they are much more likely to develop serious drug problems later in life.
Defining high risk drinking patterns
One of the major prevention efforts across society in recent years has been the development of specific guidelines for high-risk drinking by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
These guidelines call for no more than 14 standard drinks per week and no more than four per day for men. no more than seven a week and three a day for women.
Research sponsored by the NIAAA has shown that any alcohol consumption beyond these guidelines leads to a higher risk of alcohol-related and other problems.
With the publication of these guidelines, the NIAAA hoped that just knowing what alcohol consumption is risky can many drinkers limit their unhealthy drinking habits.
Prevention programs for young people
Alcohol remains the drug of choice for teenagers in the United States. Curbing drinking by minors requires massive efforts to try to change the dynamics of their family and / or community to prevent or at least delay alcohol consumption.
Current prevention efforts include those who monitor their activities and reduce their access to alcohol. Some of these efforts include enforcing legal drinking age laws, running youth media campaigns, increasing taxes on alcohol, reducing youth exposure to alcohol advertisements, and developing comprehensive community-based programs.
School-based intervention programs are, of course, an integral part of community-based prevention programs for young people. Research has shown that the most effective of these programs have the following characteristics:
- Correct the myth that “everyone” drinks.
- Teach the teen how to say no to alcohol.
- Use interactive teaching techniques.
- Involve parents and other parts of the community.
- Revisit the topic over the years to reinforce the news.
- Provide training and support for teachers and students.
- Are culturally and developmentally on target.
Comprehensive community programs
Researchers have found that school-based interventions work best when there is comprehensive prevention efforts in the community.
Successful community programs include restricting the sale of alcohol to minors, strengthening enforcement of underage drinking laws and changing alcohol policies at community events, and raising public awareness of issues related to underage drinking.
Family-oriented interventions for the youth
Many studies have shown that children with strong family ties and parents who are actively involved in their lives are less likely to start drinking from minors.
As a result, prevention programs that focus on parenting practices, parent-child communication and bonding, and effective family management have been found to be most effective in preventing adolescent alcohol consumption.
College drinking and prevention
If a child can get through high school without alcohol today, they will face greater challenges when they go to college. Binge drinking in college continues to be a major concern for schools and parents.
Early research showed that college best alcohol prevention efforts included:
- Brief approaches to motivational intervention
- Cognitive behavioral interventions
- Changing student expectations of alcohol
Again, eliminating the myth that “everyone” is binge drinking has been shown to be effective in reducing binge drinking in college. However, recent research has denied the effectiveness of some of these prevention efforts, including brief interventions, especially when these interventions are performed online.
Interventions in the workplace
The workplace is an opportunity to reach problem drinkers with prevention programs that they may not otherwise face in society. Employers can reduce productivity losses and rising medical costs by initiating employee benefit programs.
One of the most effective of these programs, according to the NIAAA, includes lifestyle campaigns that encourage workers to reduce stress, improve diet and exercise, and reduce risky behaviors such as drinking, smoking and drug use.
Prevention in the military
In the military, it has been found that high-risk, lengthy, and frequent engagements increase the risk of developing heavy drinking. In fact, the heavy alcohol consumption rate among military personnel ages 18 to 35 is 60% higher than the general population in this age group.
Military prevention efforts included reducing the availability of alcohol near military bases. These efforts include: checking for ID, making sure alcohol traffickers are not serving minors, increasing checkpoints for drunk driving, raising community awareness and promoting alternative non-alcoholic activities.
Government policies and laws about alcohol
To some extent, government interventions can prevent alcohol abuse to a greater extent than other interventions because they affect a wider range of people. Policies and laws can affect the availability of alcohol and the negative consequences of its consumption.
Some of the laws and guidelines that have had the greatest impact include lowering the legal limit for drunk driving to 0.08, immediate suspension of driver’s license for higher BAC records, raising the minimum drinking age, and passing zero tolerance laws for underage drivers.
Effects of alcohol prices
Another area where the government can play a role in preventing alcohol abuse is increasing taxes on alcohol. Research has shown that higher prices for alcoholic beverages lead to lower consumption.
The increased alcohol taxes reduce drinking not only in the general population, but also in risk groups such as heavy drinkers, adolescents and young adults.
Other guidelines for alcohol prevention
Local governments have more tools to reduce the availability and negative effects of alcohol consumption. These have been shown to be effective:
- Enforcement of the minimum drinking age
- Monitoring of alcohol outlet densities
- Limiting the hours and days of alcohol sales
Reducing costs to society
Using these evidence-based prevention approaches can lower the high costs of alcohol use disorders for individuals and society. Communities, schools, and workplaces all have the opportunity to use these messages and strategies to reach risky drinkers.
In the meantime, the NIAAA continues to fund research to develop new approaches to effective prevention efforts.