Alcohol Prohibition Versus Moderation

Alcohol Prohibition Versus Moderation – Brief Article

Franklin B. Krohn

The purpose of this article is to compare alcohol prohibition and moderation. A brief look at alcohol problems involving college communities and social pressures that exist amongst peers are presented. Legislative approaches to control the use of alcohol are suggested to benefit both the student and the community. Facts about alcohol’s damaging effects on the body are cited by specific examples of health problems associated with compulsive or binge drinking. Alcohol use by college students is probed to demonstrate solutions to combat this growing problem. Attempts to prohibit alcohol are analyzed and compared with teaching the moderate use of alcohol. The paper concludes that moderation is the optimal solution to this problem on college campuses.


Alcohol has increasingly become a determining, factor in the scholastic success and retention rates of college students across the nation (Lall & Schandler, 1991). The abuses associated with alcohol consumption have also triggered many campus organizations to design alcohol awareness programs, which focus on prohibiting and or completely eliminating the use of alcohol on college campuses (Syre, 1992). These goals appear to be unrealistic for the modern college student, who is subjected to the social pressures that exist on campuses. These pressures include (1) conformity, (2) compliance, (3) obedience, and (4) social diversity.

First, conformity occurs when individuals change their attitudes or behavior to follow social norms. Often, college students are expected to consume excessive amounts of alcohol, which alter states of action and integration within the group. Conformity to such risky behavior can be increased by cohesiveness and with the number of people pressuring such actions. Most people conform to the social norms of their group most of the time because of two powerful needs possessed by all human beings: the desire to be liked or accepted by others, and the desire to be right (Deutsch & Gerard, 1955; Insko, 1985). Additionally, cognitive processes lead to viewing conformity as fully justified after it has occurred (Griffin & Buehler, 1993).

The desire to be liked is explained by normative social influence, which is social influence based on individuals’ desire to be liked or accepted by other persons. Most people try to appear to be as similar to others as possible. One reason people conform is that they learn that by doing so they can win the approval and acceptance human beings crave.

Second, compliance involves efforts by one or more individuals to change the behaviors of others. In general, people are more willing to comply with requests from friends or from people liked than requests from strangers or people not liked. This principle is referred to as friendship/liking (Cialdini, 1994). Many students comply with excessive drinking patterns because their friends reinforce the behavior. Many fraternities and sororities are guilty of ingratiation: getting others to like them so that they will be more willing to agree to their requests (Jones, 1964; Liden & Mitchell, 1988). Increased liking can in turn lead to greater compliance.

Third, the most direct form of social influence is obedience. Obedience is yielding to direct orders from another person to do something. Obedience is less frequent than conformity or compliance, but deserves attention in social influences of college students. Research findings indicate that people often obey commands from authority figures or upperclassmen even when such people have little or no authority to enforcing the requests (Milgram, 1963, 1965, 1974). Individuals can resist obedience through making a positive choice to decline the command.

Fourth, social diversity involving gender differences in social influence appears not significant in susceptibility to social influence among equal status persons. Early studies on this issue seemed to indicate that women are more susceptible than men (Crutchfield, 1955). Later studies, however, point that there are no significant differences between males and females in this respect (Eagly & Carli, 1981). The reversal occurred because the early studies used materials and tasks more familiar to males, which placed females at a disadvantage to conformity pressure.

There are complex biological, physical, and social characteristics underlying alcohol problems (See Figure 1).


In order to control and punish, there are a number of approaches: (1) current laws increase liabilities for those who serve alcoholic beverages to minors, (2) hold universities liable for not intervening, (3) charge alcohol establishments for violations of intervention, and (4) have reduced the fraternal experience.

First, contributing parties providing alcohol to underage drinkers are held liable for serving alcohol to minors whether it is a bar establishment or a social gathering among friends. This violation is punishable via fines or jail sentencing. Second, a new strategy of reformists is to hold universities liable in cases in which the college did not intervene to subdue the consumption problems. This liability is often invoked at universities that have fraternities and sororities on campus. Third, Dram Shop Laws establish that saloons are liable for contributing to excessive drunkenness. Bar establishments have also lost liquor licenses for serving alcoholic beverages to minors, those under the legal drinking age of 21. Fourth, the social and economic harm of alcohol abuse threatens the survival of the collegiate Greek system in the United States. Poor scholarship, low rush numbers, poor retention of members, personal injuries and property damages are some of the results of excessive drinking patterns. A popular argument made by students is that alcohol prohibition on college campuses hinders the social experience (MacConnell & Clement, 1998). Many students view these radical changes as an infringement of their social life (Cavaretta & Tappon, 1998).

Alcohol Facts

Compulsive drinking in excess has become one of modern society’s most serious problems. Many people do not view alcohol as a drug, largely because its uses for religious and social purposes are common, however, the effects depend on the amount consumed at a specific time.

Once alcohol enters the body it is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream from the small intestine. Alcohol contamination in the blood leads to slower activity in parts of the brain as well as the spinal cord. The drinker’s blood alcohol concentration depends on the amount consumed, the drinker’s sex, size, and metabolism, and the type and amount of food in the stomach. The effects of alcohol depend on the amount consumed at one time (See Table 1).

Table 1 Amount of Alcohol in the Blood and the Effects

(mg/dL) EFFECT

Mild Intoxication

Feeling of warmth, skin flushed; impaired judgement;

decreased Inhibitions

100 Obvious Intoxication In Most People

Increased impairment of judgment, inhibition, attention,

and control; some impairment of muscular performance;

slowing of reflexes

150 Obvious Intoxication In All Normal People

Staggering gait and other muscular incoordination;

slurred speech; double vision; memory and comprehension


250 Extreme Intoxication or Stupor

Reduced response to stimuli; inability to stand;

vomiting; incontinence; sleepiness

350 Coma

Unconsciousness; little response to stimuli;

incontinence; low body temperature; poor respiration;

fall in blood pressure; clammy skin

500 Death Likely

Source: Addiction Research Foundation

Harmful consequences of alcohol consumption vary from person to person, however, the effects remain similar. Drinking heavily over a short period will result in a “hangover,” due to poisoning by alcohol and the body’s reaction to withdrawal from alcohol. Combining alcohol with other drugs can make the effects of these other drugs much stronger and more dangerous. Some of these harmful consequences are primary, resulting directly from prolonged exposure to alcohol’s toxic effects such as liver disease. Other consequences are secondary. They are indirectly related to chronic alcohol abuse, such as loss of appetite, vitamin deficiencies, and sexual impotence (Addiction Research Foundation, 1971).

Alcohol and the Student

Student drinking is the number one health problem on college and university campuses throughout the country. College students are at a higher risk for alcohol related problems because they have high rates of heavy consumption (binge drinking), tend to drink more recklessly than others, and are heavily targeted by advertising and promotions of the alcoholic beverage industry. Students spend approximately $4.2 billion annually to purchase 430 million gallons of alcoholic beverages. Alcohol is associated with missed classes and poor performance on tests and projects. The number of alcoholic drinks consumed per week is clearly related to lower GPAs (Wells & Presky, 1996).

Campuses throughout the nation have been assisted in combating this pressing problem by the U.S. Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act Amendments of 1989 (Public Law 101-226). It requires that institutions of higher learning receiving Federal funds attest that they have adopted and implemented a drug prevention program for both students and employees. One example offered to students is peer counseling. Many colleges train peer counselors to educate groups and individuals about the dangers of alcohol use. Some colleges limit or ban alcohol advertising in student newspapers and sponsorship of student events by alcoholic beverage companies. Another solution offered to students is alcohol-free residence halls. An emerging trend is for colleges to establish residence halls where students sign pledges that they will not use alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs. How effective this strategy is has yet to be determined.

Nevertheless, social acceptance of this drug still remains. These laws have neither crippled nor eliminated the problem. The more a behavior is suppressed, often the more it occurs. The alcoholic prohibition experiment in the United States was very revealing about American culture (Norton, Katzman, Escott, Chudacoff, Paterson & Tuttle, 1990).


Attempts to prohibit alcohol usage have been made since colonial times. Temperance movements began to gain sizable support by the public and government. The first national temperance society was formed in 1836. The temperance movement led to the adoption of full prohibition, rather than just temperance alone. Since the major parties of the political sphere refused to take a stance on the prohibition issue, a third party known as the Prohibition Party was formed in 1869. Although the party was never successful, their ideas spread throughout the country.

The prohibition movement reached its peak in the late 19th century, however, it was not until the southwestern states turned to prohibition that the issue gained mass popularity. There were many factors leading to the passage of this ineffective legislation. In order to conserve grain during World War I, federal legislation passed a series of laws to help ration supplies that were needed for the effort. This rationing established the roots for prohibition legislation. The national prohibition amendment was ratified by all but two states on January 16, 1919 and went into effect one year later. Between 1920 and 1933 prohibition was in effect in the United States. Prohibition is the illegality of manufacturing, selling, or transporting any type of alcoholic beverage.

Even though the prohibition amendment was passed by an overwhelming majority in Congress, it soon became evident that the amendment was unenforceable. The enforcement was minimized because the 1920s saw a revolution in social (1) manners, (2)customs, and (3) habits, which led to mass inclination to ignore existing prohibition legislation. “Prohibition did not achieve its goals. Instead, it added to the problems it was intended to solve” (Thorton, 1991 p.15). Prohibition caused an explosive growth in crime and increased the amount of alcohol consumption. There were also numerous speak-easies which replaced saloons after the start of prohibition. Approximately only five percent of smuggled liquor was hindered from coming into the country in the 1920s. Furthermore, the illegal liquor business fell under the control of organized gangs, which overpowered most of the law enforcement authorities (Wenburn, 1991). As a result of the lack of enforcement of the Prohibition Act and the creation of an illegal industry, an overall increase in crime transpired. The problems prohibition intended to solve, such as crime, grew worse and they never returned to their pre-prohibition levels.

The major goal of the 18th Amendment was to abolish the saloon. By outlawing the manufacturing and sale of alcohol only, the patronage of a bootlegger emerged. The Volstead Act was intended to prohibit intoxicating beverages, regulate the manufacture, production and use of spirits other than beverage purposes, and promote scientific research in the development of lawful purposes. Initially, all of these regulations were left for the Treasury Department to oversee. The ineffectiveness in preventing illegal diversions and arresting bootleggers led to the creation of the Prohibition Bureau. This was another incompetent strategy based on the spoils system which filled positions with men who discredited the enforcement efforts.

Prohibition was intended to solve over-consumption of alcohol, but inevitably encouraged consumption. A clause in the Volstead Act made search and seizure virtually unobtainable because any warrant issued was dependent on proof that the liquor was for sale. No matter how much alcohol a person had at home, and no matter how it was obtained or used, agents of the bureau had to have positive evidence that a commercial transaction took place (Aaron & Musto, 1981). This requirement inadvertently promoted home and cottage industry manufacturing of liquor. For example, during the first five years of Prohibition, the acreage of vineyards increased 700 percent, accompanied by insincere warning labeling such as “do not place liquid in bottle away in the cupboard for twenty days, because it would turn into wine” (Binkley, 1930). Although possession of illegally obtained alcohol was prohibited, the act of drinking alcohol was legal. This suggests that even prohibitionists understood the limits of regulating individual behavior.

Data on alcohol prohibition on campuses across the nation have also had little success in solving or finding a solution to this unrelenting problem. One purpose of this paper is to explore whether there is another approach that might be taken to better equip the college student in becoming a responsible alcohol consumer.


All societies in which alcohol is consumed employ a range of strategies to minimize the harm associated with its use. The most effective public policies are those that affect the environment of drinking or influence the drinker’s demand for alcohol. These include taxation and price policies, controls on access to alcohol such as limiting the condition and time of sale, modifying the drinking environment, a minimum legal drinking age, and countermeasures against drinking in hazardous circumstances such as when driving.

A moderate drinker is defined as one who imbibes one five-ounce glass of wine, one 12-ounce beer, or 1 1/2 shots of liquor daily (O’Connor, 1994). Consuming alcohol above these amounts can be hazardous. However, moderating the amount of alcohol intake can be beneficial. These benefits include (1) health, (2) scholastic performance, and (3) a decline in violence.

First, heavy consumption of alcoholic beverages is linked to many health problems. Excessive use impairs the body’s nervous system resulting in a lack of fine motor skills, reaction speed, and visual perception. Alcohol also causes one to tire faster because it weakens the heart’s pumping force. The human body recognizes the alcohol as a toxin and metabolizes it before anything else. Thus, the body cannot burn more fuel efficient fats and proteins (Rhodes, 1995). In addition, too much alcohol may cause cirrhosis of the liver, inflammation of the pancreas, damage to the brain and heart, and increased risks for some cancers. Limiting intake of alcohol makes room for foods that provide important nutrients. For all these reasons, drinking alcoholic beverages excessively is not recommended. If students choose to drink them, they should drink them only in moderate amounts or drink alternatives. Alternatives to alcoholic beverages include a mixer or fruit juice, complete with a garnish but without the alcohol.

There have been numerous studies which support the health benefits of moderate drinking. Moderate drinkers tend to have better health and live longer than those who are either abstainers or heavy drinkers (Yuan, 1997). In addition to having fewer heart attacks and strokes, moderate consumers of alcohol are generally less likely to suffer hypertension or high blood pressure, peripheral artery disease, Alzheimer’s disease and the common cold (Rimm, 1991; Coate, 1993).

Second, students who consume alcoholic beverages moderately achieve higher scholastic achievement than excessive consumers of alcohol beverages. Alcohol abuse is associated with poor academic performance. According to a national research, 21 percent of binge drinkers fell behind in their studies and 30 percent missed class during the school year (The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, 1997a).

Third, excessive alcohol consumption contributes to violence in multiple ways, chiefly by increasing aggression, particularly when the blood alcohol level rises rapidly (such as with binge drinking). Several studies estimate that between 50 percent and 80 percent of violence on campus is alcohol related. In addition, many students believe intoxication excuses inappropriate and violent behavior (The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, 1997b). A study of women who were victims of some type of sexual aggression while in college, from rape to intimidation and illegal restraint, found that 68 percent of their male assailants had been drinking at the time of the attack. (The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, 1997c).

Having control over the amount of alcohol consumption allows people to make better judgments for safety and health purposes. Social drinkers use alcohol in moderate amounts, while alcoholics do not limit their intake. The first step to moderation is practicing safe use of the drug. This means setting boundaries for the amount of alcohol consumed. After establishing a salubrious program, maintenance is the key to continuous moderate use of alcoholic beverages.


There is no simple solution to the alcohol abuse that occurs at colleges and universities across the nation. After examining two opposite methods to control alcohol abuse across college campuses, moderation is a conceivable and attainable goal. Campus administrators should promote moderation as opposed to forbidding the use of alcohol at universities. The acknowledgement of excessive alcohol abuse on campuses is only the first step. Offering alternatives to students, such as moderation lead to solving the problem. It is inconceivable to believe that no calamitous events will occur with both widespread acceptance of alcohol and the heavy promotion by alcohol manufacturers; however, taking the moderation approach is more feasible than outright prohibition.

Author identification

Franklin B. Krohn is a Distinguished Service Professor and Brandon M. Pyc is a Research Assistant in the Department of Business Administration, State University of New York College at Fredonia, Fredonia, NY 14063.


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