The impossible dream?—Routes to reducing alcohol problems in a temperance culture Academic Article uri icon


  • Two main prescriptions are offered for reducing rates of alcohol problems in English-speaking and Nordic cultures: a "dry" solution of reducing the physical and cultural availability of alcohol, and a "wet" solution of reducing problems of intoxication by better integrating drinking into the culture. Empirical evaluations of change in particular cultures have tended to support the dry, and not the wet, solution. But such studies focus on relatively short-term effects, and there is evidence that long-run effects may be weaker or may even be reversed from shortterm effects. Some particular societies that have been put forward as examples of the long-term success of wet strategies are considered. The most likely success from this perspective is the Netherlands, which is also an exceptional society in terms of the wetness of its drug policies. In the light of these cases, consideration is given to some issues concerning the criteria for evaluating the success of one or the other solution. It is argued that alcohol policy discussions need to recognize that intoxication has a particular social position in our societies, in terms of characteristics of the drinker and of the occasion, in terms of intoxication's cultural significance, and in terms of its entrenchment in social worlds of heavy drinking. Some implications for policy are noted.

publication date

  • January 1992