ATLANTA—When crafted correctly and enforced, public policy can influence the amount and pattern of alcohol consumption in populations and prevent a significant number of alcohol-related deaths according to new research by criminologist and social epidemiologist William Alex Pridemore at Georgia State University.
Alcohol-related harm is responsible for 2.5 million deaths annually and is the third leading cause of premature mortality worldwide. In this research, Pridemore examined alcohol’s impact at the population level – relative to studying the effects of drinking on individuals – to help people and policymakers understand the impact of alcohol policy on public health and public order.
“It is important to determine if the population-level levers available to public health can be successful in reducing the burden posed by harmful alcohol consumption,” he said.
In a series of articles published in leading public health and substance abuse journals, Pridemore and colleagues show the impact of a 2006 Russian alcohol policy change on mortality. They were interested in Russia because its rate of alcohol-related harm is among the highest in the world.
“Russian culture continues to experience high levels of alcohol consumption and dangerous patterns of drinking,” said Pridemore, a Distinguished University Professor in Georgia State’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies. He argues that if alcohol policy can reduce harm in this environment, then it should also be effective in other nations.
They found the new policies were directly responsible for a decline of about 16,000 deaths per year due to causes commonly associated with heavy drinking: suicide, traffic accidents and alcohol-related deaths like liver cirrhosis and alcohol poisoning.
Pridemore began the work because recent research by others showed a decline in Russian mortality rates and suggested the 2006 alcohol policies might be partially responsible. Since those scholars did not formally test this idea, however, Pridemore decided to do so.
“I thought this would be an easily testable hypothesis,” he said. He worked with a Russian demographer to obtain the data and with an American colleague to do the analysis. “We used a set of techniques specifically designed to allow scholars to look at the impact of a discrete event, like the implementation of a policy. It’s a very powerful tool that allows us to gauge the causal effect of an intervention on various outcomes.”
The key goal of the 2006 Russian alcohol policy changes – which regulated the production and sale of ethyl alcohol and alcohol-containing products – was to decrease consumption and hazardous drinking and to reduce the burden of alcohol-related harm.
“We found, generally, that regulation works. The research makes it clear: alcohol consumption is responsive to policy. If implemented correctly, alcohol policy and regulation can lead to less illness and save lives.”
To find the research, go to:
- Reduction in Male Suicide Mortality Following the 2006 Russian Alcohol Policy: An Interrupted Time Series Analysis (American Journal of Public Health, 2013)
- The Impact of a National Alcohol Policy on Deaths Due to Transport Accidents in Russia (Addiction, 2013)
- The Effects of the 2006 Russian Alcohol Policy on Alcohol-Related Mortality: An Interrupted Time Series Analysis (Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 2014)