Public Health

Alcohol Abuse Disorders Continue to Decline

The results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health were recently released, and while the lion’s share of media coverage concentrated on the survey’s opioid findings, the results also show a variety of interesting trends regarding alcohol.

First, the number of minors who consumed alcohol continued to stay below levels from the early 2000s. In 2002, around 17 percent of respondents age 12-17 reported having alcohol at least once in the previous month, compared to just below 10 percent in 2017 (see red line in graph below).

Even more encouragingly, the prevalence of alcohol abuse disorder (AUD) continued its long-term decline. AUD is defined under the DSM-IV classification system, and is meant to capture those with alcohol dependence or abuse.

For all Americans age 12 and older, the percentage of individuals with alcohol disorders has dropped from 7.7 percent of the population in 2002 to 5.3 percent in 2017—an over 30 percent decline. For minors the news was even better, with rates of AUD dropping by almost 70% in recent years (from 5.9 percent of 12-17 year olds in 2002, to 1.8 percent in 2017). Achieving a sub-2 percent rate among young children is a particularly eye-catching and encouraging number for a country of 300 million. Finally, in the 17-25 year range—which includes the college-age demographic—there’s been an over 40% decline in AUD rates.

Our ethos for R Street’s alcohol policy program has long been to favor rational alcoholic beverage policies that respect individual freedom, free enterprise, and the public well-being. We take the public well-being part of this equation seriously, which is why it’s encouraging to see alcohol abuse disorders continue to fall to new lows.

Why Rebranding Sin Taxes as "Health Taxes" Doesn't Fix Anything


There's been a recent wave afoot to rename sin taxes as health taxes. R Street's Kevin Kosar writes for American Spectator about how this doesn't alleviate any of the drawbacks of using sin taxes:

Have you heard the news? So-called “sin taxes” — particularly those on alcoholic beverages — are being rebranded as “health taxes.” It’s true...

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other public health advocates think sin taxes should be called and viewed as “health taxes.” Certain activities and products, like gambling and booze, issue “externalities” that are born by the community collectively. They say the overwhelming evidence indicates that higher taxes on alcohol and other vices will reduce excessive consumption and the associated health costs.

For sure, alcohol addiction and severe abuse is damaging. Anyone who has ever known an addict can speak to the awfulness and tragedy of it all. The same goes with compulsive gambling, which is horrifically costly.

So, what’s not to like about a sin or health tax?

Plenty. Dressing up the sin tax as a “health tax” sweeps under the rug some of the problems with this policy tool...

Read the rest of Kevin's column here.


Do more alcohol outlets lead to more drinking? Not necessarily.


A new study in Addiction purports to find that more alcohol outlets mean more drinking among local consumers--which led the authors of the study to call for more intense regulation of alcohol licenses. But Christopher Snowden from Spectator Health argues that the study may have been flawed:

It seems to be Economic Illiteracy Week in the temperance movement. On Monday, it was ‘revealed’ that places which have more alcohol outlets have higher rates of alcohol-related harm. Since alcohol-related harm is linked to alcohol consumption, this is a fairly basic illustration of supply and demand. Greater demand results in greater availability.

The authors of the study, published in Addiction, found that there were 16 per cent more hospital admissions for ‘acute alcohol intoxication’ in areas where there is a high density of pubs and clubs. While this might be a ‘no shit, Sherlock’ moment for anyone familiar with the real world, the plot thickened when they found that restaurant density was associated with an even larger rise of 22 per cent. Since restaurants are not generally regarded as binge-drinking hotspots, it seems likely that the causal factor is the night-time economy in city centres rather than the number of alcohol licences per se.

Nevertheless, the authors concluded their study by calling for ‘more intensive regulatory scrutiny’ of ‘licensing policy decisions’. Translation: restrict availability in the vain hope that making alcohol fractionally less easy to come by will stop people getting drunk.

Read more here.