Strong State Alcohol Policies Protective against Binge Drinking

Posted on: December 10, 2013 Topics: Community Health Sciences

A novel composite measure consisting of 29 alcohol policies demonstrates that a strong alcohol policy environment is a protective factor against binge drinking in the U.S, according to a study led by researchers at the BU schools of medicine and public health and Boston Medical Center (BMC).

While previous research has found that individual alcohol policies can reduce risky drinking and alcohol-related harms, this is the first study to characterize the effect of an overall alcohol policy environment. 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, according to the study, published in the current issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

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

Binge drinking is a common and risky pattern of alcohol consumption that is responsible for more than half of the 80,000 alcohol-attributable deaths that occur each year in the United States.

“If alcohol policies were a newly discovered gene, pill or vaccine, we’d be investing billions of dollars to bring them to market,” said Dr. Timothy Naimi, senior author of the study, who is associate professor of medicine and community health sciences and an attending physician at BMC.

Alcohol policy environments differed considerably among states, with policy scores varying up to threefold between them. Among all states and Washington D.C., almost half had a rating of less than 50 percent of the maximum possible score in any particular year from 2000-10. States in the bottom quartile of policy strength had binge drinking rates that were 33 percent higher than those in the top quartile.

“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,” said Naimi.

Overall, analyses showed that the policy environment was a strong indicator of state-level differences in binge drinking.

“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,” said Naimi.

The study was supported by an NIH grant. Co-authors include: Timothy Heeren, professor of biostatistics at BUSPH; Ziming Xuan, research assistant professor of community health sciences; and Thien Nguyen, project manager for community health sciences.