Prohibition Vs Harm Reduction In Dealing With Alcohol Problem

Prohibition vs Harm Reduction: Characteristics and Differences

In 1920, the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution went into effect, after having been ratified a year before, on the 29th day of January 1919 (Schrad, 2007). This amendment placed a ban on manufacturing, transporting, and selling intoxicating liquors.The federal enforcement behind prohibition drew its mandate from the National Prohibition Act that is commonly known as the Volstead Act.This Prohibition period, lasted a total of 14 years between the year 1920 and 1933 when the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was adopted by Congress. This resolution would repeal the 18th Amendment that had brought about the Prohibition era. The Prohibition strategy was the outcome of amplifiedadvocating for temperance byreligious revivalism and other ‘perfectionist’ movements between the late 19th and early 20th century; 1820s to 1930s (Schrad, 2007).During the Great War, a temporary wartime prohibition was effected in 1917 by President Woodrow Wilson for saving grain that would be used in food production. This incident paved the way for the Prohibition, as that is the year that Congress made their 18th Amendment submission for ratification. President Hebert Hoover referred to the Prohibition as “the great social and economic experiment” implying that it would have far-reaching purpose as it had a noble motive (Schrad, 2007).

In the place of Prohibition after it was repealed, a more favorable approach known at the time as ‘liquor control’ that promoted the concepts of harm reduction came into force (Room, 2004). This approach accepted alcohol use but prioritized the restructuring and influencing of consumption in a way that limited the negative health and social effects of drinking liquor. The prohibitionist movement and the Harm Reduction movement varied in many ways. For instance in as much as the Prohibitionists had early success with the 18th Amendment, the Harm Reduction movement despite never being a mass movement emerged as the stronger of the two. While the prohibitionists were mostly evangelical Protestants and factory owners, the Harm reduction movements was largely elite-based as it was made up of the producers of alcohol and their allies (Room, 2004). In a nutshell, the two movements were similar in that they recognized, acknowledged and had the will to fix social and health problems brought about by alcohol consumption but greatly differed in their problem-solving approach.

Examples of how the two strategies would deal differently with particular alcohol problems

In the early 20th Century, alcohol was viewed as a force of destruction in marriages and families, a view that was strongly supported by the temperance movement that had women champions at the forefront. According to the Evangelical Protestantism, the saloon culture that was promoted by the sale of alcohol was ungodly, corrupt, and ideally bad for society. Factory owners; who at the time were going through the period of prolonged working hours due to escalated industrial production, were also in support of Prohibition because of their need to improve the efficiency of workers and reduce accidents at the workplace (Schrad, 2007).

Despite the Prohibition, throughout the decade of the ban, illegal manufacturing, sale, and alcohol smuggling across state borders were going on discreetly. ‘Bathtub gin’ and ‘moonshine’ were some of the covert terms used to refer to the illegal production of liquor in the privacy of people’s homes. ‘Speakeasies’ covertly referred to the operation of illegal nightclubs and stores that sold alcohol while ‘Bootlegging’ made reference to the illegal sale and manufacture of alcohol. According to Prohibition school of thought, their strategy was aimed at ‘zero tolerance’; prevention, elimination and punishment for offenders who would be arrested, charged and consequently heavily fined or jailed. Harms Reduction school of thought on the other hand, aims for the goal of reducing the harm caused by alcohol consumption without the requirement of abstention (Logan & Marlatt, 2010). This concept focuses on programs and policies aimed at the mitigation of health, economic and social impacts of alcohol to the individual, their family and community (Witkiewitz & Marlatt, 2006). The strategies can be applied anywhere on the line between supply and demand. The place, manner and time of selling alcohol is always emphasized in the application of Harms Reduction strategies (Witkiewitz & Marlatt, 2006). It involves controlling the behavior of both the buyer and the seller; for instance through licensing, where only those in possession of the license can sell liquor and buyers can only make purchases from licensed outlets.

Evaluation of the relative strengths or limitations of each approach

Prohibition had an early success rate, as it was recorded that alcohol consumption had dropped by 30% and arrests for drunkenness had dropped significantly (Schrad, 2007). These were however false indications of problem solving sincepeople who wanted to drink always found inventive ways to find the alcohol. All the covert and illicit operations around alcohol production and consumption promoted the increase of criminal activity and gang violence as lawbreakers scrambled to make money out of these illegal but lucrative businesses. As the cost of illicit liquor was very high, only the upper and middle class Americans could afford it, which locked out the poor and the working class, a controversial situation that eventually contributed to the diminishing support for temperance and Prohibition. The enforcement of Prohibition was a struggle for both the local and federal government with the enforcement mandate being assigned to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and later shifted to the Department of Justice (Schrad, 2007). Over the Prohibition period, enforcement became skewed with efforts being felt more in rural places and small towns where more sympathizers of the legislation resided as opposed to the urban areas and big cities where people were liberal and consequently, enforcement of the legislation loose.

Prohibition in the financial sense had negative impacts on the economy, this became especially apparent at the time Prohibition was coming to an end, since American was going through the great depression, the legalization of the liquor industry held great promise in the form of revenue and job creation. The Harm Reduction movement grew stronger over the temperance movement mainly because it drew its power from the fact that it sort to solve the same problems the Prohibition tried to address and as soon as the Prohibition’s credibility was lost, ‘Liquor Control’ was a viable alternative ready for adoption (Schrad, 2007). Harms Reduction policies and programs ensure that the government authorities are in the loop through regulation, ensuring that circulation of money remains within the legitimate economy.


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