What’s Wrong with the Alcohol Industry

Dr. William DeJong, Director of the federally funded Higher Education Center for Alcohol and other Drug Prevention clearly emphasizes what wrong with the alcohol industry. He explains that by using the term “the alcohol industry” activists are “trying to tap into the public’s general suspicion of profit-making big business. Harking back to the trust busting days of the early 1900’s, some advocates have even started throwing around the epithet “Big Alcohol.”

Director DeJong points out some of the problems caused by using such terms. “First, using these catchall terms obscures important differences between producers, distributors, and vendors.” It also masks important differences between beer, wine and distilled spirits producers, who are frequently at odds over public policy and other matters. The following graphic illustrates part of the problem.

Fragmented alcohol industry

Additionally, there are other important differences between the interests of large and small producers, importers and non-importers, California vintners and New York State vintners, large retailers and mom-and-pop retailers, bars and restaurants serving alcohol, alcohol operations in monopoly and non-monopoly states, and on and on.

The so-called alcohol industry is highly fragmented, has many conflicting interests, and is unable to speak with one voice. There’s really no such thing as “the alcohol industry” or “Big Alcohol.” Using these terms may be useful for stirring up emotions but is highly inaccurate...even deceptive.

Dr. DeJong also emphasizes that use of such terms deligitimizes and discourages efforts to find common ground between alcohol abuse prevention professionals and those who produce, distribute or retail alcoholic beverages. He points out that there are many successful collaborations, such as responsible beverage service programs and voluntary agreements promoting responsible alcohol consumption by a variety of means. These are win-win collaborations and the public benefits.

Unfortunately, many well-meaning activists strongly oppose any collaboration with what they see as the enemy. They believe that alcohol beverages are bad and that those who produce, distribute and retail them are bad. So they cut off their nose to spite their face. In reality, producers, distributors and retailers have for many decades demonstrated a strong and continuing commitment to reducing alcohol problems.

For example, the Century Council, representing American distillers, has for well over ten years been spending about a million dollars ($1,000,000) per month to reduce underage drinking and intoxicated driving. Additionally, vintners, brewers, distributors, and retailers are all involved in a wide variety of programs they fund to reduce alcohol problems.

That’s what’s wrong with “the alcohol industry.”


  • DeJong, William. What’s in a name? Let me count the ways. Prevention File, 2004, 18(2), 2-5.