Strong Alcohol Policies Can Protect Against Binge Drinking, Study Says

Researchers found that the stricter the state laws, the less people binge drink.

Researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and Boston Medical Center (BMC) found that strong alcohol policy can be a protective factor against binge drinking in the U.S. The study is published in the current issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

According to BUSM officials, binge drinking is responsible for more than half of the 80,000 alcohol-attributable deaths that occur each year in the U.S. “If alcohol policies were a newly discovered gene, pill or vaccine, we’d be investing billions of dollars to bring them to market,” says Dr. Tim Naimi, senior author of the study, associate professor of medicine at BUSM, and attending physician at BMC.

Previous research had demonstrated that individual alcohol policies can reduce risky drinking and the harms caused by alcohol but this is the first study to show how overall alcohol policy affects the numbers. States with stronger policy scores had lower rates of binge drinking, and states with larger increases in policies had larger decreases in binge drinking over time.

Specifically, compared with states with weaker policy environments, states with stronger policy environments had only one-fourth of the likelihood of having binge drinking rates in the top 25% of states, even after accounting for a variety of factors associated with alcohol consumption such as age, sex, race, religious composition, income, geographic region, urban-rural differences, and levels of police and alcohol enforcement personnel.

“Unfortunately, most states have not taken advantage of these policies to help drinkers consume responsibly, and to protect innocent citizens from the devastating second-hand effects and economic costs from excessive drinking,” Naimi says. “The bottom line is that this study adds an important dimension to a large body of research demonstrating that alcohol policies matter – and matter a great deal – for reducing and preventing the fundamental building block of alcohol-related problems.”