Alcohol Abuse: Who’s to Blame? Producers? Consumers?

Alcohol abuse: who’s to blame? The answer to the question of who’s to blame for alcohol abuse is important. That’s because it suggests how to reduce such abuse.

Wayne Wheeler

alcohol abuse: who's to blame
Wayne Wheeler

Prohibition leader Wayne Wheeler had an uncle who repeatedly got himself drunk at local saloons. Wheeler tellingly observed “I could never understand why the saloons were allowed to make him drunk” (emphasis added).1

Neal Dow

Also Neal Dow, an early champion of prohibition, wrote this.

alcohol abuse: who's to blame
Neal Dow

My father once owned an old-fashioned silver watch, too large to be conveniently carried, which he often hung on a hook on the wall. One day, when a little fellow, I climbed into a chair to get at the watch, tipped the chair over, pulled the watch down, which, falling with me to the floor, was broken.

When reproved for meddling with the timepiece, I urged upon my father that the fault was altogether with those who had left the watch within my reach. Years afterward, in relating the incident, my father would laughingly say that he had heard me make my argument for Prohibition, so far as it bore upon the removal of temptation, before I was six years old.2

Typical Prohibitionist

The typical prohibitionist response is to blame those who supply the wants of those who do the abusing. Today, neo-prohibitionists call for “environmental management.” They want to reduce the availability of alcohol beverages to the public.

Yet Prohibition suggests that the prohibitionists misplaced the blame. During it, there were no alcohol ads. It was illegal to sell such beverages. All drinking venues were illegal. Drinking bootleg (illegal) alcohol was dangerous to life and health.

Alcohol producers were not pushing people to drink. To the contrary, consumers had to seek out their supplies of the illegal beverages. At speakeasies they had to give secret passwords and endanger themselves. Yet drinking flourished. Simply because of consumer demand.

Consumer is King

Even when alcohol is legal and producers can promote their products, the consumer is still king. Research clearly shows that alcohol ads today can’t increase consumption.  Nor does it induce non-drinkers to begin drinking. If successful, such ads can only increase an advertiser’s share of the market. But it obtains that at the expense of its competitors. They lose market share.

Alcohol abuse is reduced through changing the attitudes and behaviors of consumers. Not through changing the actions of those who satisfy consumer demand.

As a Chinese sage observed thousands of years ago. The fault is not in the alcohol but in the drinker.

Alcohol Abuse: Who’s to Blame?

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Footnotes for Alcohol Abuse: Who’s to Blame?
    1. Hanson, D. Wayne Bidwell Wheeler. Am Nat Bio.
    2. Burns, E. The Spirits of America. A Social History of Alcohol.