International Center for Alcohol Policies: Ten Years of Progress

The International Center for Alcohol Policies (ICAP) was established ten years ago on

the principle that there are many legitimate stakeholders who can and should address the place of alcohol in society. The most crucial is the family unit, but public health advocates, scientists, governments, educators, the media and the beverage alcohol industry all have important roles in helping to set the standards for responsible drinking.

Throughout most of the world alcohol has long been a part of culture and has contributed to both pleasure and good health. However, the abuse of alcohol is associated with many deep-rooted health and social problems.

During the past ten years the International Center has emphasized the fact that “how people drink is at least as important as how much they drink. This has long been recognized by anthropologists and sociologists, but increasingly scholars in other disciplines are now addressing this important fact in their research. Dr. Eric Single, Professor of Public Health Sciences at the University of Toronto,
observes that “the key message for preventing acute problems must change from ‘Drinking less is better’ to ‘Avoid problems when you drink.’” People need to understand how to drink in moderation.

For too long policy makers have focused on the substance of alcohol itself rather than on drinking patterns and behaviors. In a summary report on its first ten years of operation, ICAP notes that it

is changing the debate about alcohol’s place in the world by shifting the discussion from the commodity to the behavior. The traditional focus of policy discussions has been on the regulation of beverage alcohol. But, really, what matters in terms of preventing harm is the formulation of policies that influence drinking patterns.

What are the behaviors involved in the ways people drink? What behaviors lead to negative consequences, both for individuals and society as a whole? What are healthy ways to drink?

Evidence strongly suggests that, for most adults, moderate drinking confers not only social benefits but also some health benefits. By contrast, excessive drinking is the mother of many ills, from traffic accidents and chronic disease to disability and dire social problems.

For those not barred from drinking by religious faith, legal regulations or medical risk, the harm isn’t in the alcohol itself; it’s in the ways in which it is consumed. When done sensibly by those who wish to imbibe, drinking is an incomparable enhancement to a vast range of pleasurable human activities -- eating, conversing, sharing time with family and friends, flirting, relaxing and celebrating.

The goal of the International Center for Alcohol Policy is to identify and promote policies that reduce alcohol abuse and promote moderate drinking. It has made much progress toward that goal during its first ten years of operation.


  • International Center for Alcohol Policies. International Center for Alcohol Policies: The First Ten Years. Washington, DC: International Center for Alcohol Policies, 2005.

filed under: Alcohol Abuse