How New Alcohol Policy Could Save Lives
While the prospect of increasing government regulation in any given sector is always a heatedly debated topic here in the United States, the country of Lithuania showed how this could be done correctly. The eastern European country of 2.7 million people was able to drastically reduce its drunk driving fatalities simply by making it very difficult for Lithuanians to drive drunk.
It may be possible to follow a similar model here in the U.S. without increasing regulations. Rather, American communities could replicate much of what Lithuania did on a community-to-community basis, focusing on education, prevention, treatment, and community accountability.
Lithuania’s New Alcohol Policies
A study published in September 2019 examined alcohol-related traffic harm in Lithuania between January 2004 and February 2019. The study sought to determine if increases in regulatory efforts in Lithuania were effective in reducing alcohol-related deaths. The study examined the efficacy of Lithuania’s five main alcohol regulations and policies:
1). Increases in taxation.
2). Restrictions on the availability of alcohol.
3). Minimum purchasing age regulations.
4). New legislation on drunk driving.
5). Advertisement bans.
According to the study authors, all signs and indicators for alcohol-related harm receded during the study period. The proportion of alcohol-related crashes fell 55%, alcohol-related injuries fell 60%, and overall alcohol-related deaths decreased by 13%.
And last but not least, alcohol-related traffic fatalities decreased by 82%.
In a nutshell, the Lithuanian government made alcohol more expensive and more difficult to get by increasing taxes on alcohol sales, limiting the number of places that could sell alcohol, and limiting the times when alcohol could be sold. Lithuania also added additional legislation on its minimum purchasing age, and the country cracked down on drunk driving. Furthermore, the nation banned virtually all alcohol advertising.
At the conclusion of the research paper, the study authors said, “The implementation in Lithuania of effective alcohol control policy measures to reduce alcohol consumption as well as specific measures to reduce driving under the influence of alcohol, was associated with a reduction in alcohol‐related traffic collisions and crashes, alcohol‐related injuries, and alcohol‐related deaths.”
It may be unrealistic to expect the United States to simply copy and paste Lithuania’s approach to a free country of more than 330 million people. But individual communities could learn from the Lithuanian model and apply it within their own neighborhoods, counties, cities, and states.
Lithuania’s regulatory approach focused on key areas such as alcohol advertising, discouraging young people from drinking, and combatting drunk driving by going so far as to temporarily confiscate the cars of drunk drivers! Lithuania also made it much more difficult for alcohol manufacturers and distributors to promote alcohol.
Moving over to the United States, alcohol advertising is a huge industry in this country. Alcohol companies spend about $2 billion on alcohol advertisements each year, even though alcohol companies know that their products kill 95,000 Americans on an annual basis.
Demanding that alcohol companies spend fewer dollars on advertising and also demanding that such companies do not show advertisements to young people would be a step in the right direction for reducing alcohol-related harm.
Combatting Drunk Driving
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, more than 10,000 Americans die from drunk driving accidents each year. New policies that take a more comprehensive approach to drunk driving could save lives. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, having laws against drunk driving, sobriety checkpoints, high-visibility patrols by police, ignition interlocks for offenders, and school-based instructional programs would all be effective for combatting drunk driving.
People also respond well to educational campaigns about drunk driving. One study suggested that information on impaired driving be implemented in every driver education class, driver’s license handbook, and driving test. Quoting Charles Crawford, a contributor to the study, “If every driver’s handbook had a few pages, not on punitive laws but on what causes drunk driving and what constitutes social responsibility, I think it would mean a lot.”
Some communities, counties, and states have considered implementing zero-tolerance policies instead of the usual 0.08 BAC legal limit. Making it illegal to drive with any amount of alcohol in one’s system could go a long way in reducing instances of drunk driving.
Increasing Awareness for the Problem
One of the most crucial factors in tackling a public health problem is making sure that people know about the problem. Cities and counties could broadly publicize on billboards, radio, television, and social media how many people in that area have died from alcohol-related harm in any given period, effectively informing the locals of just how bad the problem is.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and nonprofit groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving could collaborate to purchase air time on television for alcohol-related PSAs. Mass media campaigns like informative messages in newspapers, flyers, and radio segments could also be helpful.
Prevention Through Education
Tackling the alcohol abuse problem in America should begin where most alcohol addicts start, in their youth. When young people are properly educated about the harms and dangers of using alcohol, they are much less likely to experiment with alcohol at a young age.
The NIAAA and the Partnership to End Addiction offer excellent information on how to help kids say no to alcohol. Parents should use the free material to show their kids, to have conversations with them, and to talk about why they should not use alcohol.
Addiction Treatment for Those Who Can’t Stop Drinking
Once someone becomes addicted to alcohol, they can no longer be helped by prevention efforts, education, increased awareness campaigns, drunk driving reduction efforts, or changes in alcohol advertising. They have to get professional help through addiction treatment services. The best way to help someone who has succumbed to alcohol addiction is with the assistance of a residential alcohol addiction treatment center. Such programs possess the tools, staff, know-how, and facilities necessary to help someone overcome the underlying issues and personal crises that caused them to use alcohol as a coping mechanism in the first place.
Every life lost to an alcohol-related cause is preventable. With more than 95,000 Americans dying every year from alcohol-related causes, it would be worth creating new and effective strategies for curbing those deaths. For those addicted to alcohol, preventing their deaths begins with helping them get into residential addiction treatment programs.