The CDC estimates that binge drinking is responsible for more than half of the 80,000 alcohol-attributable deaths in the United States each year, and three-quarters of the $224 billion in annual economic costs. A new study has demonstrated that states that have a strong alcohol policy environment have a substantially lowered risk of any binge drinking.
Examples of effective alcohol policies include higher alcohol taxes, having fewer outlets licensed to sell alcohol, bans on happy hours and discount drink specials, earlier bar closing times, and laws to reduce impaired driving.
The research findings demonstrated that each 10 percentage point increase in the strength of a state’s alcohol policy score (reflecting more effective and/or better implemented alcohol policies) was associated with an 8 percent reduced likelihood of a person engaging in any binge drinking or binge drinking five or more times in the past 30 days; and a 10 percent reduced likelihood of consuming 10 or more drinks while binge drinking. Data on 29 alcohol policies tracked by the Alcohol Policy Information System and other data sources was analyzed. The policies were investigated by an expert panel, based on their theoretical effectiveness and the degree to which were fully implemented in a particular state and year. The most protective policies were those that raised the price of alcohol and those reducing its physical availability. Within those two policy categories, higher alcohol taxes and reduced numbers of alcohol outlets accounted for approximately half of the effect of all 29 policies combined.
“This study shows that alcohol policies matter — and matter a lot — for reducing a person’s risk of binge drinking, which is a leading cause of premature death and disability in the U.S.,” said Ziming Xuan, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of community health sciences at BUSPH. “Our findings pertain not only to those who binge drink occasionally, but to those who do so frequently, or who consume the largest amounts of alcohol on any given occasion.”
“Unfortunately, most states have not fully utilized available policy tools to reduce binge drinking among their citizens, despite widespread and consistent scientific evidence demonstrating their effectiveness,” said the study’s senior author, Dr. Timothy Naimi, a physician at BMC and associate professor at BUSPH. “If alcohol policies were a newly discovered gene, pill or vaccine, we’d be investing billions of dollars to bring them to market.”
Ziming Xuan, Jason Blanchette, Toben F. Nelson, Timothy Heeren, Nadia Oussayef, Timothy S. Naimi. The Alcohol Policy Environment and Policy Subgroups as Predictors of Binge Drinking Measures Among US Adults. American Journal of Public Health, 2014; e1 DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2014.302112