Published on August 13th, 2013 | from CAMH

Reducing intoxication among bar patrons

By Dr. Stephen Kish, Senior Scientist and Head of the Human Brain Laboratory in the Research Imaging Centre

CAMH scientist Kate Graham and her colleagues in Australia, the U.K., and the U.S. feel that laws prohibiting the sale of alcohol in bars to intoxicated customers are still not working.

In a recent “For Debate” article published in the journal Addiction, Dr. Graham points out that clear, consistently enforced laws on drinking and driving, coupled with roadside random breath testing, have substantially cut the extent of driving while intoxicated.  However, similar laws prohibiting service to intoxicated customers at bars continue to be ignored.

For example, in one study conducted in the Netherlands, a group of actors pretending to be intoxicated were still served alcohol even though most of the bartenders noticed that the “customers” were intoxicated (the study was published in Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research).

Why are the laws not enforced?

Graham suggests a number of reasons, namely the lack of a “clear, measurable and accepted definition” when intoxication has occurred in a bar, similar to a breathalyzer test. Graham is proposing a two-step enforcement strategy to observe patrons leaving randomly-selected bars, and then targeting high-risk establishments for more intensive enforcement.  She also emphasizes that there is no perception of high risk of being punished for drunkenness in a bar and no “political will” to change this situation.

A quick Google search shows this is a widespread problem worldwide. When I visit a bar I want to enjoy myself. It would be unreasonable for “big brother” enforcement to prevent customers from having fun – but society still feels that it is safe to get “plastered” at a bar – apparently as long as you do not drive.

What will it take to make bars, like our roads, safer for society?

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