Drunkenness No Barrier to Getting More Booze

Study finds bars, liquor stores continue to serve

THURSDAY, May 13, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Most bars and liquor stores continue to sell alcohol to obviously intoxicated patrons regardless of laws that prohibit it, a new study says.

Although most states have laws that forbid bars and liquor stores from selling alcohol to people who are obviously drunk, these laws are often not enforced by the police and are ignored by bar and liquor store owners. Serving alcohol to intoxicated people leads to car accidents and violence associated with alcohol abuse.

"Despite laws prohibiting sales of alcohol to obviously intoxicated people, the vast majority of businesses licensed to sell alcohol would sell to someone that appeared to be intoxicated," said lead researcher Dr. Traci L. Toomey, an associate professor of epidemiology from the University of Minnesota.

In their study, Toomey and her colleagues had trained actors try to buy alcohol while appearing intoxicated. Over 10 months, actors visited 372 bars and liquor stores in 11 communities.

The research team found 79 percent of the establishments sold alcohol to these pretend drunks.

In addition, liquor store clerks who appeared younger than age 31 were significantly more likely than older servers at bars to sell alcohol to clearly intoxicated buyers, according to their report in the May issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Toomey believes that in many cases servers do not know what the law is. "That should be a key part of server training programs," she said.

Sometimes even though servers are aware of the law, they may not know how to handle the customer. "They don't want to have a hostile drunk person to deal with," Toomey said.

In addition, other research by Toomey's team found that, in many cases, management policy insists on serving intoxicated patrons. Also, communities have not paid the same attention to this problem as they have to underage drinking, she noted.

These laws are difficult to enforce, Toomey said, adding there are few systemic enforcement campaigns.

Penalties for violating the law vary by state and include fines and eventual loss of a liquor license. In addition, under what is called dram shop liability, bars and liquor stores can be sued for damages by victims of drunk drivers or other alcohol-related crimes.

Toomey recommends aggressive training programs for servers and management that will clarify the law and give servers and managers the skills to help enforce the law.

"This is a risky type of alcohol service," Toomey said. "We need to figure out ways to pay more attention to it, and either work with establishments or find ways to put pressure on these establishments to make sure that they comply with the law."

James F. Mosher, the director of the Center for the Study of Law and Enforcement Policy at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, said the findings are "completely predictable."

"The laws prohibiting sales to intoxicated persons are not being enforced, and they are not being complied with by retailers," he added.

These are very important laws in terms of drinking and driving, Mosher said. "We know that as many as 50 percent of drunk drivers are leaving bars," he noted.

These laws need to be enforced and complied with, Mosher said. There needs to be strict enforcement and voluntary responsible beverage service programs, he added.

If these laws are enforced, Mosher said, there would be significant drops in drunk driving rates and in alcohol-related problems such as violence.

More information

Learn about responsible marketing and the service of alcohol from Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

SOURCES: Traci L. Toomey, Ph.D., associate professor, epidemiology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; James F. Mosher, director, Center for the Study of Law and Enforcement Policy, Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, Felton, Calif.; May 2004 Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
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