• There is said to be a low uptake in alcohol-related policies
  • Researchers looked at policy and consumption in 10 diverse countries
  • People in countries with stricter alcohol policies actually drank less

Does having stricter alcohol policies prevent drinking? It may actually help, a new study has found. It highlights the potential role policy may have in reducing consumption.

Alcoholic drinks are popular beverages, with 67% of Americans saying they "have occasion" to consume alcoholic beverages in a July 2022 poll. It's no secret that alcohol isn't exactly good for people's health. In 2018, alcohol-attributable deaths were reportedly estimated at three million per annum globally.

"The global burden from alcohol is expected to rise due to increased consumption in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), especially in South East Asia and the Western Pacific regions of the world, if effective policies requiring regulation of supply and marketing and increased taxation are not implemented," researchers wrote, in their new study, which was published Sunday in Alcohol: Clinical and Experimental Research.

However, there is a "lack of uptake" in alcohol-related policies compared to those for other non-communicable diseases, they said.

Researchers had a closer look at whether there are actually changes in drinking patterns among various groups of drinkers from the general population in relation to alcohol control policy "as measured by the International Alcohol Control (IAC) Policy Index."

The IAC Policy Index reflects "a country's uptake of the most effective alcohol policies," the researchers noted.

"The IAC Policy Index measures the implementation and enforcement of policies shown by previous studies to be cost-effective in reducing alcohol use, namely policies restricting alcohol availability, marketing, pricing, and drinking and driving," explained the Research Society on Alcoholism.

The participants were from 10 different countries – five from high-income and five from middle-income countries. Researchers analyzed each country's IAC score — the higher scores indicate stronger alcohol policies.

More than 17,000 participants were included in the analysis, and they were asked about their alcohol consumption. Questions included how often they drank in the last six months and how much they typically drink.

The team found an association between the countries' IAC scores and alcohol consumption. Every additional increase in score represented a 16.5% decrease in alcohol volume consumed in the past six months and a 13.9% decrease in drinking frequency.

A stronger policy had a "significant inverse relationship" with lower levels of consumption in young adults and less educated, which are the groups that report heavy drinking.

Those aged 18 to 24 saw the largest decrease in alcohol consumption. This may be "significant" in terms of public health as young adults tend to "experience disproportionate alcohol-attributable deaths," the researchers said.

The study also found an association between the policies and alcohol consumption depending on education level.

"The lower education group decreased their typical occasion quantity the most as policy strength increased," the researchers wrote.

They also found other interesting results. For instance, the decrease in men's consumption was slower and less compared to women's.

"This meant that women had a lower typical occasion by 1.2% frequency by 3.1%, and total volume by 4.2% compared to men," the researchers wrote.

Overall, the results show that alcohol policies can actually impact people's consumption. Although there have been questions as to whether drinking alcohol in certain quantities has any benefits, experts stress that "no level of alcohol consumption is safe for our health."

Calling it a "toxic, psychoactive, and dependence-producing substance," the World Health Organization, in a report earlier this year, noted that alcohol is considered to be a Group 1 carcinogen, which is the highest risk group that includes asbestos and radiation.

"The risk of developing cancer increases substantially the more alcohol is consumed," the agency noted. "(C)urrently available evidence cannot indicate the existence of a threshold at which the carcinogenic effects of alcohol 'switch on' and start to manifest in the human body."

The latest study shows the importance that alcohol policy may play in reducing people's consumption.

"There is value in implementing such alcohol policies and a need to accelerate their uptake globally," the researchers said.

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