Nirvana Recovery

Restraining Alcohol Misuse in Arizona: The Importance of Community-Level Prevention Policies

Arizona Excessive Drinking stats 2022 by CDC Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System

Do you konw Arizona ranks second in the Nation for alcohol abuse treatment. Alcohol misuse has become a pressing public health concern in Arizona, leading to numerous adverse consequences for individuals, families, and communities across the state.

According to the 2022 Arizona Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), 17.3% of Arizona adults engaged in binge drinking (consuming 4 or more drinks per occasion for women and 5 or more for men), while 7.0% reported heavy drinking (adult men having more than 14 drinks per week and adult women having more than 7 drinks per week). Furthermore, alcohol-related deaths in Arizona have increased by a staggering 57% from 2005 to 2017, highlighting the urgent need for effective prevention strategies.

To address this growing problem, Arizona communities must prioritize the implementation of evidence-based, community-level prevention policies that have been shown to reduce alcohol misuse and its related harms. By targeting the broader social, economic, and environmental factors that influence alcohol consumption, these policies can create lasting, population-wide changes in drinking behaviors and attitudes.

The Burden of Alcohol Misuse in Arizona

The consequences of alcohol misuse extend far beyond the individual drinker, placing a significant burden on Arizona’s healthcare system, economy, and social services. Excessive alcohol use is associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases, such as liver cirrhosis, high blood pressure, and certain types of cancer, as well as mental health problems like depression and anxiety.

In addition to the health toll, alcohol misuse contributes to a wide range of social and economic harms in Arizona communities. In 2021, there were 421 alcohol-impaired driving fatalities in Arizona, which constituted 36% of all traffic fatalities in the state.

traffic fatalities by state and highest driver BAC in the crash 2021

The financial costs of alcohol misuse are staggering, placing a significant strain on Arizona’s economy. In 2019, the economic burden of excessive alcohol use in the state was estimated at $4.8 billion, including costs related to healthcare, lost productivity, criminal justice expenses, and property damage. This equates to a cost of nearly $700 per Arizonan, highlighting the widespread impact of this issue.

Effective Community-Level Prevention Policies

To effectively reduce alcohol misuse and its associated harms, Arizona communities must adopt a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach that addresses the various factors contributing to excessive drinking. The “Implementing Community-Level Policies to Prevent Alcohol Misuse” guide, published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), outlines several evidence-based policies that have been shown to be highly effective in curbing alcohol misuse at the population level.

  1. Regulating Alcohol Outlet Density: One key strategy is to limit the number and concentration of alcohol outlets in a given area through licensing restrictions and zoning laws. Research has consistently shown that higher alcohol outlet density is associated with increased rates of binge drinking, underage drinking, and alcohol-related crimes and injuries. [Screenshot opportunity: summary of outlet density regulations from PDF] By carefully regulating the location and density of bars, liquor stores, and other alcohol retailers, Arizona communities can reduce the physical availability of alcohol and create safer, healthier neighborhoods.

  2. Maintaining Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA) Laws: Another critical policy is the strict enforcement of the minimum legal drinking age of 21. Arizona is currently one of only 15 states that have no exceptions to the MLDA law, meaning that underage individuals cannot legally consume alcohol under any circumstances. [Screenshot opportunity: U.S. map showing MLDA exceptions by state] Maintaining and actively enforcing this law is essential for preventing early alcohol use initiation and reducing the risks of alcohol-related harms among youth.

  3. Increasing Alcohol Taxes: Raising taxes on alcoholic beverages is another effective strategy for reducing alcohol consumption and related problems. By increasing the price of alcohol through excise or sales taxes, policymakers can make drinking less affordable and discourage excessive consumption. As of 2023, Arizona’s beer tax is $0.16 per gallon, the wine tax is $0.84 per gallon, and the spirits tax is $3.00 per gallon – rates that are lower than the national average. Increasing these taxes and adjusting them regularly for inflation could generate significant public health benefits while also providing revenue for prevention and treatment programs.

  4. Limiting Days and Hours of Alcohol Sales: Restricting the days and times when alcohol can be sold is another evidence-based policy that has been shown to reduce drinking and related harms. By limiting alcohol sales to certain hours or days of the week, communities can reduce the temporal availability of alcohol and disrupt harmful drinking patterns. For example, prohibiting alcohol sales after a certain time at night or on Sundays has been associated with reductions in binge drinking, alcohol-related crashes, and violence.

  5. Regulation of Alcohol Advertising and Marketing: Finally, regulating the marketing and advertising of alcoholic beverages is critical for protecting vulnerable populations, particularly youth, from exposure to pro-drinking messages. Alcohol companies spend billions of dollars each year on advertising campaigns that often target young people and link drinking with social success, attractiveness, and fun. By restricting alcohol advertising in public spaces, near schools and playgrounds, and on media platforms popular with youth, Arizona communities can help counter these harmful messages and reduce the appeal of drinking.

Successful Policy Implementation in Arizona

While there is still much work to be done, several Arizona communities have already seen promising results from implementing these recommended prevention policies. For example, the city of Tempe has used zoning laws to limit the concentration of bars and liquor stores in its downtown area, leading to a significant reduction in alcohol-related crimes and disturbances. Similarly, the town of Gilbert has actively enforced its minimum legal drinking age laws through regular compliance checks and retailer education programs, resulting in fewer underage sales and a lower rate of youth alcohol use.


To build on these successes and achieve widespread reductions in alcohol misuse, Arizona communities must continue to prioritize the adoption and equitable enforcement of comprehensive prevention policies. This will require close collaboration between public health professionals, policymakers, law enforcement agencies, schools, businesses, and community members to ensure that everyone is working together towards a common goal.

Conclusion

Alcohol misuse is a complex and persistent problem that requires a multi-faceted, community-driven response. By implementing evidence-based policies that address the availability, affordability, and promotion of alcohol, Arizona communities can create environments that support healthy choices and reduce the devastating consequences of excessive drinking. However, it is not enough to simply adopt these policies – they must also be actively enforced and continually evaluated to ensure that they are having the intended impact. This will require ongoing investment in prevention resources, data collection systems, and public education campaigns to raise awareness about the risks of alcohol misuse and the benefits of responsible drinking. Ultimately, curbing alcohol misuse in Arizona will require a sustained commitment from individuals, families, communities, and policymakers alike. By working together to prioritize prevention, we can build a stronger, healthier future for all Arizonans – one where everyone has the opportunity to thrive and reach their full potential.

Also, if you want to gain profound insight into the five chapters on Community-Level Prevention Policies, download the PDF below

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Nirvana Recovery