Neo-Prohibitionism in the United States

by Corbin G. Keech and Charles W. Fairchild

  1. There is a significant neo-prohibitionist movement underway in this country. This anti-alcohol campaign is extremely well bankrolled. For example, between 1997 and 2002, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation alone spent more than $265 million to increase taxation, form negative attitudes and achieve more restrictions on alcohol alone. The movement is tightly organized, self-righteous and has sympathetic ears in the media. It is a combination of private and public advocacy organizations, special interest groups and governmental agencies pushing their own agenda on elected representatives, lawmakers and officials.
  2. The neo-prohibitionists have targeted the entire alcohol industry, and not just the manufacturers. Restaurants and bars, as well as the social drinker, are all part of today’s prohibition, drop by drop. One expert describes the collective result as a simultaneous, multi-pronged offensive on the way adult beverages are perceived, distributed, sold and consumed. This assault is designed not only to address product abuse, but simply to force everyone to drink less or not at all.
  3. Since constitutional prohibition was an acknowledged failure, today’s modern prohibitionist seeks to characterize alcohol as an illicit drug that is culturally unacceptable. This notion of zero tolerance is precisely the environment in which young adults currently live.
  4. The studies and articles claiming a general increase of alcohol abuse, alcohol related deaths or alcohol caused traffic fatalities among society in general, and specifically, the young adult population are generally misleading and deceptive at best. These claims tend to reflect the views of the neo-prohibitionist movement and based on selective statistics
  5. Numerous studies funded by the federal government report that most young people and adults drink very little or not at all. Alcohol is not an important part of life for most Americans. In fact, even the American Medical Association, a staunch critic of the alcohol industry, concurs that the overwhelming majority of adults drink alcohol responsibly.
  6. Consistently, the data show that among 18 to 22 year old full time undergraduate population, 81% consume moderate to minimal amounts of alcohol or abstain completely. Other studies debunk the claims that alcohol consumption by young people result in widespread criminal problems. That just isn’t happening to the extent argued by the anti-alcohol movement. In reality, alcohol consumption has significantly and steadily declined in the 18 to 25 age group since 1980 and the same is true for alcohol related traffic fatalities. As for the Echo Boomer generation, studies document that they drink less, smoke less and commit less crime. The vast majority are in control of their alcohol consumption.
  7. The claims that collegians are widely engaging in binge drinking are false. It is best described as the binge spin. Binge drinking is clinically and commonly viewed as a period of extended intoxication lasting several days during which the binger drops out of usual life activities. However, in the early 1990s, alcohol activist Henry Wechsler, a PhD. at Harvard, received funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to conduct an investigation of college drinking habits. In doing so, he created a whole new definition for binge drinking. Wechsler’s study defined “binge drinking” as a male student who had five or more drinks or a female student who had four or more drinks on an occasion at least once in a two-week period. Another flaw with Wechsler’s methodology is the absence of a time period over which the purported binge drinking occurs. Additionally, Henry Wechsler then subdivided binge drinking into “frequent binge drinkers” and “occasional binge drinkers” in order to claim a collegiate binge drinking population composed of 44% of the undergraduate student population. The real data simply do not support these conclusions.
  8. The anti-alcohol campaign is creating a purported societal problem that does not exist and using junk science to support its position. Even Henry Wechsler fully admits at the beginning of his study that alcohol abuse has been entrenched on America’s campuses since the first colleges were chartered in colonial days. Wechsler then goes on to say that until recently, heavy college drinking has been largely ignored, tolerated or winked at. However, history will document that, by and large, previous generations have been productive contributors to American society. History will also document that Henry Wechsler and others are receiving millions in grant monies to undertake studies that result in conclusions favorable to the neo-prohibitionist movement.
  9. The most effective way to reduce youthful alcohol abuse is called social norms programs. The social norms approach corrects the common misperception held by students that most students drink frequently and heavily. The use of marketing campaigns and other strategies to give students accurate feedback do work. Once the truth gets out that the majority of students drink moderately or not at all, they behave accordingly. Even the American Medical Association admits that studies show college age students overestimate the drinking frequency of their fellow students and the drinking norms on their campuses. By communicating the true facts about campus alcohol consumption, the resulting peer pressure becomes one of restraint rather than encouragement. More colleges need to embrace the social norms approach.
  10. The whole issue over alcohol and claims of binge drinking is just another insult and lack of respect for the 18 to 25 age group. They have the right to vote, to fight for our country, to hold office, to pay taxes, to serve on a jury and convict others of crimes, to be tried and punished fully for any crime, to enter into contracts, to own property, to operate a business and be an employer, to sue and be sued, to enter into marriage, to adopt children, to have abortions, to consent to sexual intercourse, to perform in pornography, to purchase and own weapons, to assume debt, to obtain credit, to play the lottery, to be fully authorized to drive a vehicle or fly a plane, and even buy cigarettes. But as to alcohol- don’t even come to the Demon Rum. Promoting a higher drinking age isn’t a pro-alcohol stance. It is called being anti-discrimination and pro-youth.


Adapted from Keech, Corbin G., and Fairchild, Charles W. Dude, What are My Rights?: The Self-Help Legal Survival Guide for Ages 18-25. Kansas City, MO: Collegiate Services Coalition of America, 2005. ISBN 0-9763201-0-X, and edited by website host.

This user-friendly book provides practical legal advice on a wide variety of issues often faced by young adults, of which alcohol is but one. Neither this website nor its host receives any profit or other consideration of any kind from its sale.

Filed Under: Prohibition