Should State Governments Regulate Alcohol Consumption?

Woman is shopping for alcohol in a supermarket

It’s clear that consuming alcohol can be harmful. In fact, anything beyond infrequent and conservative levels of drinking should be strongly discouraged for health reasons alone. To drink with any kind of frequency is to open oneself up to potential health problems, including addiction. And for those who are in recovery from alcohol addiction, there is no level of drinking that is safe or acceptable.

So how do we create an American population that does not consume alcohol as much? How do we educate, regulate, enforce, restrict, or otherwise change the society to make it one that doesn’t drink as much as it does now?

An option that’s always been on the table is to restrict people’s access to alcohol. But is that the right approach? Is it the only approach?

Recent Findings on State Restrictions and Alcohol-Related Cancer

U.S. News reported on new research from the Boston Medical Center and Boston University School of Public Health. The study hypothesized that policies that reduce drinking might also lower rates of alcohol-related cancers.

Alcohol consumption is linked to several types of cancer. According to the data, about 20,000 people die in the United States every year from cancers caused in part by drinking alcohol. That’s 20,000 unnecessary and preventable deaths.

To determine whether or not stricter regulations on alcohol consumption could potentially curb cancer deaths, researchers examined different states, their alcohol policy, and their alcohol-related cancer deaths. What the researchers found was pretty indicative of a positive effect on public health in states which mandated more substantial restrictions on alcohol.

According to the research, states which increased their restrictive alcohol policies by 10% then experienced an 8.5% decrease in cancer deaths among their residents. On the one hand, we can say that correlation does not imply causation. But on the other hand, it also makes sense that if a state makes it more difficult to get alcohol, fewer people in that state will drink, and fewer people will die from alcohol-related cancers.

Keep in mind that these are not rigorous, authoritarian mandates that such states are handing down. Some of the policies on alcohol include pretty simple strategies like:

  • Higher taxes levied on alcohol purchases (consumers paying the tax).
  • Higher taxes levied on alcohol sales (distributors paying the tax, or redistributing the charge to the consumers in the form of increased prices).
  • Restriction on the number of locations allowed to sell alcohol.
  • More strict crackdowns on drunk driving or public displays of drunkenness.
  • Restrictions on where and when (time of the day, day of the week), that alcohol can be sold.

“… Implementing effective policies to reduce alcohol consumption is a promising means of cancer prevention that merits further investigation.”
Image of leaver on a glass of alcohol

Dr. Timothy Naimi, a research fellow at the Boston University School of Public Health, commented for U.S. News on the study’s findings. “When thinking about cancer risk and cancer prevention, the focus tends to be on individual-level risk factors rather than environmental determinants of cancer, like public policies that affect the consumption of alcohol or tobacco. Implementing effective policies to reduce alcohol consumption is a promising means of cancer prevention that merits further investigation.”

To learn more about the research and how the researchers were able to arrive at their conclusions, the full research paper can be read subscription-free at Science Direct.

State and Federal Government Regulation in Alcohol Consumption - Is it the Correct Move?

The subject of regulation is a sensitive one, especially in the United States. This is a country built on freedom, with inhibitions of freedom being generally frowned upon. However, state-levied regulations that promote the betterment of public health are regulations that make sense. They are rules that help keep alcohol consumption to a minimum, and that’s something we all benefit from.

However, we should never rely on regulation as being a means to solve the alcohol problem. No state will ultimately reduce the harmful effects of alcohol on its residents by regulation alone. Instead, we also, as individuals, families, and communities, need to make efforts towards changing the way society as a whole views alcohol.

The Importance of Educating the Society and Helping Addicts Get Clean

Some states might make some progress in reducing the harm in alcohol consumption by directly regulating alcohol more heavily. But the real success in reducing damage caused by alcohol lies in educating people on why they should drink less.

For the most part, young people start using alcohol because they are peer pressured into doing so and because they don’t know any better. Adults who drink alcohol as a coping mechanism usually started doing so because they didn’t know the risks and dangers connected with such activities.

A comprehensive understanding of what alcohol does to the mind and body won’t cause everyone to think twice before drinking. But it will cause a lot of people to step away from alcohol, to say no to peer pressure, and to find other, healthier methods of coping with life’s many stresses.

Alcohol regulation has its place and its value. But the primary ways in which we are going to change society as a whole is going to lie in:

  • Educating those who are at risk for excessive drinking; and
  • Helping those who currently drink too much to seek treatment.

Those who are at risk for drinking are young people and individuals who face seemingly unrelenting hardships and life struggles. These individuals need to be adequately informed on the harmful physical, behavioral, and psychological side effects of alcohol.

Those who are currently addicted to alcohol require residential drug and alcohol treatment centers to help them break free from the physical, behavioral, and personal connections they’ve developed with their substance of choice. Such individuals will need a great deal of help in coming down off of alcohol through both withdrawal and detoxification. They will also need help in constructing strategies and healthy coping mechanisms, useful tools, and life skills for tackling the hardships of life without turning to alcohol.

Between state regulation, public education, and treating those who are addicted, we can effectively reduce the negative impact that alcohol has on our society.


Reviewed and Edited by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, CCS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.