Cost of Alcohol and Its Consumption
Many individuals and groups call for dramatic tax increases on
alcohol beverages in an effort to reduce underage drinking. 1
They believe that making alcohol more expensive will discourage
consumption. That seems like a reasonable assumption.
However, the scientific evidence simply doesn't support the proposal
to raise alcohol beverage prices to reduce illegal underage drinking.
Logic also fails to support such a policy. The proportion of underage
people who drink has dropped dramatically over the past two decades,
during which time the inflation-adjusted cost of alcohol beverages
also fell. Underage drinkers are largely immune to the price of
alcohol beverages because they rarely buy it themselves, instead
taking it from their own homes or obtaining it free elsewhere, according
to federal research.
However, there is good news. The social norms marketing technique
has repeatedly proven effective in reducing the use and abuse of
alcohol among young people. It's based on the fact that the vast
majority of young people greatly exaggerate in their minds the quantity
and frequency of drinking among their peers. Therefore, they tend
to drink - or drink more
-than they would otherwise, in an effort to "fit in."
When credible surveys demonstrate the actual, much lower drinking
rates, and the results are widely publicized or "marketed"
to this group, the imagined social pressure drops and so does youthful
drinking. Study after study demonstrates this. 2
It's time for the federal government to implement the effective
social norms marketing technique to reduce underage drinking.
- 1. See for example, Mothers Against Drunk
Driving, Alcohol Taxation and Health Care Prevention, MADD website; Mothers
Against Drunk Driving, Excise Taxes on Alcoholic Beverages, MADD website;
Center for Science in the Public Interest (Alcohol Policies Project),
Why Raise Alcohol Excise Taxes?, Center for Science in the Public Interest
- 2. Michael P. Haines.
(1996). A Social Norms Approach to Preventing Binge Drinking at
Colleges and Universities. Newton, MA: The Higher Education Center
for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, Education Development Center,
Inc. * A complete description of the first social norms marketing
campaign conducted at Northern Illinois University (NIU). Annual
self-report health assessment surveys and other data gathered at
NIU over a multi-year period have shown significant subsequent increases
in safe drinking and abstaining, as well as decreases in alcohol-related
- Koreen Johannessen, et al. (1999). A Practical Guide to Alcohol
Abuse Prevention: A Campus Case Study in Implementing Social Norms
and Environmental Management Approaches. Tucson, AZ: Campus Health
Service, The University of Arizona.* A detailed examination of the first four years of the University
of Arizona's social norm campaign, which achieved a 29% reduction
in heavy drinking.
- H. Wesley Perkins and David Craig (2002). A Multifaceted Social
Norms Approach to Reduce High-Risk Drinking. Newton, MA: The Higher
Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, Education
Development Center, Inc.* A comprehensive presentation of the Hobart and William Smith
Colleges' Social Norms Project, which achieved a 30% reduction in
high-risk drinking over 5 years. Contents include a complete description
of program components, including data collection, print media campaigns, electronic
media campaigns, curriculum development, and campus presentations.
- H. Wesley Perkins, (2002). "Social Norms and the Prevention
of Alcohol Misuse in College Contexts." Journal of Studies
on Alcohol/Supplement No. 14, 2002. * An excellent review of conceptual and empirical studies on the
role of social norms in college student alcohol use and in prevention
strategies to counter misuse. The normative influences of various
constituencies serving as reference groups for students are examined
as possible factors influencing students' drinking behavior.
- H. Wesley Perkins, Editor (2003). The Social Norms Approach to Preventing
School and College Age Substance Abuse: A Handbook for Educators,
Counselors, and Clinicians. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. An essential resource book of evidence supporting the social norms
strategy and a user-friendly exposition of how model interventions have
been conducted. Contents include numerous case studies of campus experiments
to reduce alcohol abuse, expanding social norms to other campus applications
(such as tobacco use), and using the social norms approach with adolescents
and young adults in community settings.
- *Indicates that a complete version can be accessed at the website of
the National Social Norms Resource Center (http://soicalnorms.org).
Annotated reference in footnote #2 reproduced by permission of the
National Social Norms Resource Center.