In history, alcohol has most commonly been constructed as a problem that affects individuals, not others. The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of historical and contemporary research on alcohol's harms to others and aims to give a rationale for the current increasing interest in this field of research.
This paper reviews the recent literature published on alcohol's harm to others and contextualises this through a discussion of historical and present-day cultural positions on alcohol.
Alcohol was rarely linked to harms to others until the early Temperance movement, but this waned in the early twentieth century. Increasing prosperity post the Second World War led to the relaxation of licensing laws, which coincided with an increasing focus on individualism and consumer capitalism. New public health research identified lifestyle factors, including drinking, as problems that were controllable through health promotion and individual behaviour change. Constructing drinkers as deviant or unwell led to individualised policies. Powerful groups such as the alcohol industry and the government encourage the construction of alcohol as an individual problem, not one that affects others.
While only a limited amount of international research has been undertaken on alcohol's harm to others in history, very recently this issue has begun to elicit some government attention. Recent research shows that there are many harms and costs, broadly distributed, constituting well-accepted reasons why regulation and effective public health measures should be implemented to respond to alcohol's harm to others. The epidemiology of both nuisance and serious harms illustrates a spectrum of problems. The prevalence of externalities that exist and the range of people who experience them underscore the reasons that alcohol's harm to others should become a focus of government concern and action into the future.
This work was supported by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, an independent, charitable organisation working to prevent the harmful use of alcohol in Australia www.fare.org.au
Laslett, A.-M., Callinan, S. and Pennay, A. (2013), "The increasing significance of alcohol's harm to others research", Drugs and Alcohol Today, Vol. 13 No. 3, pp. 163-172. https://doi.org/10.1108/DAT-11-2012-0010
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