I have a problem with too many men suffering from alcoholism in my country. I tried putting large taxes and limiting the stores that sell alcohol but that led to cottage industry of low quality moonshine sold on the black market. Quote often with even worse effects.

Could you recommend some ways to decrease alcohol consumption?

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    $\begingroup$ Have you tried using religion? $\endgroup$ – Andrew Grimm Jun 5 '17 at 1:17
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    $\begingroup$ How big is your countries demographic? Religion has worked in many places. $\endgroup$ – Kilisi Jun 5 '17 at 2:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Kilisi I think religion is better at hiding alcohol consumption than it is at reducing it. $\endgroup$ – Erik Jun 5 '17 at 7:55
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    $\begingroup$ Let the wives/girlfriends/misstresses raise heck until the men stop drinking. From the pre-Prohibition era here in the US there are photos fo groups of women wtih teh caption "lips that touch liquor will not touch ours", etc. $\endgroup$ – ivanivan Jun 5 '17 at 13:31
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    $\begingroup$ Is that you, Mr. Andropov? $\endgroup$ – user4239 Jun 5 '17 at 15:49

13 Answers 13


(I guess since I got the comment upvotes I'll post it as an answer...)

Look at studies of Portugal and its decriminalization of hard drugs. Far better than anything we've found so far is the institution of social programs that help rehabilitate those who are suffering for little to no cost. Prohibition NEVER works, but legalization coupled with a strong socially accepting message does. Alcoholism is a recognized disease and needs treatment, not punishment.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Jun 7 '17 at 2:58

Engineer a medicine, drug, bacteria, virus, or gene therapy, introduced into the food/water/air supply, that results in an intolerance to alcohol, similar to lactose intolerance or ipecac syrup.

Alternatively, a bacteria that is highly effective in rapidly breaking down ethanol so that no one can get drunk off of it.

Both methods intend to make drinking alcohol much less enjoyable, by either increasing its negative consequences or negating the positive effects.

Either method is a logical public policy similar to introducing Fluoride into the water supply, or adding bitterants to anti-freeze to make it unlikely for kids and animals to drink. A significant epidemic of alcoholism can make such an effort supported by the public. Or do it covertly.

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    $\begingroup$ There are existing meds that will make you sick (on purpose) if you consume alcohol. They are given to people in alcoholism treatment. $\endgroup$ – Tomáš Zato Jun 5 '17 at 7:45
  • $\begingroup$ Do those methods work? $\endgroup$ – Daron Jun 5 '17 at 9:05
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    $\begingroup$ Same is done for meth addicts. Methadone blocks the receptors responsible for making meth highs pleasurable, meaning doing meth is pointless. $\endgroup$ – cde Jun 5 '17 at 17:58
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    $\begingroup$ @cde: I think you mean heroin rather than meth. $\endgroup$ – ruakh Jun 6 '17 at 3:47
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    $\begingroup$ @ru It's too late to edit but yes. $\endgroup$ – cde Jun 6 '17 at 4:09

Give them another way to be happy

Whether or not they suffer from alcoholism, people drink because they are not happy. Drinking is a short term and potentially hazardous solution but it is a solution nonetheless. You cannot take it away and hope for improvement if you don't offer something to replace it. Get your populace "addicted" to any of the below.

Physical activity: Formal or informal sports, working with animals, wilderness survival (think scouting). All give an excuse for physical activity. This provides the same dopamine and seratonin high that alcohol provides with none of the drawbacks. Except maybe addiction. People can get addicted to competitive sports but that's not as big a problem as addiction to drinking.

Aside: Drinking is bad for your health and is not advised for serious sportspeople! Another reason not to drink.

Other drugs: There are other drugs that provide a similar high but are less addictive and have less side-effects. One answer suggests cannabis. I'm not here to debate the pros and cons of cannabis over alcohol, since you are free to make up your own smart-drug and decide the effects for yourself. But four things you must decide are strength, addictiveness, side-effects (effects besides the high), and strength of withdrawal. Can you die from alcohol withdrawal? Can you die from cannabis withdrawal?

Communal activity: Social interaction and working as any sort of team also gives a serotonin/dopamine high. One answer suggests religion, and I agree. However it cannot be the monastic type of religion. If must be load and evangelic and involve teamwork. The religion forces you to work with people you otherwise wouldn't and that is its advantage.

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    $\begingroup$ "People don't use drugs to feel better; they use drugs to feel less bad". $\endgroup$ – Erik Jun 5 '17 at 10:20
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, and this answer to a question about alcoholism says, "people drink because they are not happy." It doesn't say, "people become alcoholics because they are not happy," which would still be an over-simplification but is at least arguable. It also doesn't say, "drinking to excess makes people unhappy," which seems to be your argument. $\endgroup$ – Useless Jun 6 '17 at 13:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Useless fair enough; I don't know whether OP uses "drinking" to mean "drink in moderation" or "drink in excess". That should probably be clarified (as I assumed the latter and you seem to assume the former). $\endgroup$ – Erik Jun 6 '17 at 13:51
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    $\begingroup$ Forced activities seems possibly more likely to cause people to drink as opposed to reducing alcohol consumption [citation needed]. If it's optional, how is that different from the world as it currently is - we have plenty of opportunities for sport and other communal activities, yet there are plenty of all sorts of addicts. $\endgroup$ – NotThatGuy Jun 6 '17 at 19:55
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    $\begingroup$ Consider that we are all forced to sleep periodically by our nature, but this does not especially cause us to drink. $\endgroup$ – Daron Jun 7 '17 at 9:04

Make common ink cap a staple dish.

Common ink cap is a common and edible mushroom. It contains a toxin that is not dangerous in itself, but it prohibits proper break down of ethanol, resulting, in mild cases, in immediate and extremely severe hangover, and in bad cases cardiac arrhythmia.

It is extremely unpleasant to drink alcohol for several days after ingesting the mushroom.

  • $\begingroup$ Could you explain why this would lower alcohol consumption? If there's any relevant info in the link, it's recommended that you include it in your answer as well. $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy Jun 5 '17 at 14:05
  • $\begingroup$ Are people being forced to eat it (i.e. being poisoned by their government) or is that meant to be an already defacto staple food (i.e. why would alcoholism ever become a thing?). $\endgroup$ – starlord7 Jun 5 '17 at 14:07
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    $\begingroup$ @starlord7 I imagine it would be more like a health campaign: "An ink cap a day keeps cancer at bay" or something. Also, thank you for including the explanation, @Bex! This is actually a pretty clever approach. $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy Jun 5 '17 at 14:22
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    $\begingroup$ But a wine a day also prevents disease. Why would people who don't actually want help eat a commonly known food that prevents them from drinking their problems away? An overt campaign like that doesn't prevent alcoholism in people not ready to admit they have a problem. Now, say you covertly take some ink cap genes and transplant them in a common staple like wheat or rice. $\endgroup$ – cde Jun 5 '17 at 17:48
  • $\begingroup$ I believe there is an episode of QI where they discussed a similar plan in the navy to prevent sailors drinking the ethanol that powered the torpedos, by cutting it with poison. And they drank it anyway! Mind you that's the same episode they cut off Daniel Radcliffe's head with a guillotine. So perhaps it cannot be trusted. $\endgroup$ – Daron Jun 6 '17 at 12:20

Disulfiram (tradenames: Antabuse, Antabus) in the water supply, or possibly in the air. It basically causes immediate hangovers by inhibiting an enzyme that finishes the degradation of ethanol.

It's discovery was something of an accident, if I recall correctly. Workers in rubber manufacturing plants where products were being vulcanized (disulfiram has a sulfur-sulfur bond that's presumably useful) began to notice intolerance to alcohol after work. I don't know if they were getting it on their skin and it was being absorbed, or if the high temperatures were aerosolizing some of it and they breathed it in

Disulfiram plus alcohol, even small amounts, produce flushing, throbbing in head and neck, throbbing headache, respiratory difficulty, nausea, copious vomiting, sweating, thirst, chest pain, palpitation, dyspnea, hyperventilation, tachycardia, hypotension, syncope, marked uneasiness, weakness, vertigo, blurred vision, and confusion. In severe reactions there may be respiratory depression, cardiovascular collapse, arrhythmias, myocardial infarction, acute congestive heart failure, unconsciousness, convulsions, and death.

It was featured in a story between Radiolab and Marketplace where some Russian clinics used it to scare people out of alcoholism. Maybe the view of alcohol in your society is more akin to the Russian sentiment than it is in North America.

Kai Ryssdal: Alcoholism and Russia have a long and destructive history together. Alcohol abuse costs that country half a million deaths a year, most of them men of working age. It also costs billions of dollars in lost productivity. Male life expectancy in Russia is just 60 years, and the Russian population is predicted to shrink nearly 20 percent by the middle of the century, in part because of the drinking. Every problem, though, creates a market for a cure.

Our health care correspondent Gregory Warner traveled to Moscow to track down one very popular cure -- and the doctors who sell it.

Gregory Warner: For me, this all started with a story I heard about a friend's ex-boyfriend. A Russian alcoholic who promised he'd never ever drink again. Story was he got a capsule surgically inserted under his skin. Some kind of chemical compound, such that if he drank that capsule would explode into his bloodstream, and kill him.


Eugene Raikhel [professor at the University of Chicago] says if it worked it's partly because Russians understand addiction differently.

Raikhel: Here's the distinction: in North America, the prevailing understanding of addiction is it's not about the substance as much it is about the face that you're out of touch with some truths about yourself and your condition.

[Whereas in Russia,] Many of the patients I talked to say, "I don't have to change myself in any way, I don't have to become a different person."

I just have to get rid of my addiction. Which is what Dr. Davidov offers. When he gives you that pill and he puts that drop of vodka on your tongue, he scares that part of you into submission.

The killer cure for alcoholism in Russia, APM Marketplace, 3 March 2011


Use tactics that have been successful in reducing smoking

In the United States, smoking tobacco has been on the decline. This New York Times article explored how the most effective methods involved decreasing access to cigarettes (especially due to finances) and limiting public exposure. Also, these were gradual changes over time, not an immediate ban as happened with the US alcohol prohibition.

Educate people about advertising tactics used by the industry, with the goal of giving them a negative perception of it

But educating people about the tobacco industry’s marketing efforts can have a big impact. “We now have empirical evidence that people who don’t like the tobacco industry are about five times as likely to quit, and a third to a fifth as likely to start,” [Dr. Stanton A. Glantz] says.

Anecdotally, I see this technique used heavily in my area, with an ad campaign of "big tobacco targets kids" to create a negative perception of the industry.

Ban the substance in public locations

[Dr. Glantz] also notes the importance of smoking bans. “When you create smoke-free workplaces, bars, casinos and restaurants, it sends a strong message that smoking is out,” he says. “It also creates environments that make it easier for people to quit smoking.”

Also, fine those who violate this

[Dr. Mary O’Sullivan] says that many of her patients who are trying to quit head to city parks, where it’s been illegal to smoke since 2011; people caught smoking in parks face a $50 fine.

Reduce substance use in movies and other popular media, and increase negative portrayals

According to these experts, also at play may be increasingly graphic ad campaigns, including the “Tips From Former Smokers” campaign begun last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and fewer incidents of smoking in popular movies. Research shows that the more times a young person sees smoking in the movies, the more likely he or she is to take up smoking, and from 2005 to 2010, young people saw far less smoking in PG-13 movies. (Many of those youths are now adults and would have been captured by the new report, though smoking in movies has since increased.)

Stuff that needs more research

Increase the price of the substance at retail locations via taxes

This has been a very effective tactic for reducing smoking, but you said that it had already been tried for alcohol. More research needs to be done to see if this would work if the other methods listed above were implemented.

Richard Grucza, an associate professor in psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine who studies tobacco policy, cited the 62-cent-per-pack federal tax increase that took effect in 2009, as well as laws that ban indoor smoking, cigarette vending machines, the sale of packs of fewer than 20 cigarettes and the distribution of free cigarettes, as major contributors to declining smoking rates.

In other words, increasing the tax, outlawing distributions of small quantities, and banning official distribution of free cigarettes worked together to make it more expensive.


[Dr. O’Sullivan said,] “In New York, we’ve gotten it down to 14 percent, and one of the big reasons is price. Here it’s $12 a pack. Even our schizophrenia patients, who are the most addicted, who used to smoke two and three packs a day, even they are smoking less because of the price.”

Stuff that probably won't work

Don't rely on school education programs

These turned out to be less effective than other methods.

School education programs, for example, don’t appear to be very effective, most likely because schools are difficult places to change social norms and it is hard to do the programs well given all the other demands in the school day, [Dr. Glantz] says.

Also, to my knowledge, there are no current efforts to prevent someone from growing their own tobacco or consuming it on private premises. These tactics were not effective for prohibition of alcohol in the US, so a society trying to reduce alcohol consumption would do well not to try.

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    $\begingroup$ Op already mentioned that taxation and limitation did nothing but create a black market. $\endgroup$ – cde Jun 5 '17 at 18:08
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    $\begingroup$ @cde Fair point. I've moved that to the bottom and put a bit about how it may be effective when paired with other methods, but more research should be done. I think I'll ask a question on History.SE or Politics.SE about why taxes were historically effective for smoking, but not alcohol, although I strongly suspect it has a lot to do with what other measures were paired with it. $\endgroup$ – Thunderforge Jun 5 '17 at 18:13
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    $\begingroup$ Pricing works (to some degree) for tobacco because you can't produce it yourself, in most countries in the world anyway. Anybody with access to fruit or vegetables can produce more than enough alcohol for their personal consumption. $\endgroup$ – alephzero Jun 7 '17 at 2:07
  • $\begingroup$ Tobacco and alcohol aren't as similar as they seem... The only release an addicted smoker receives is a relief of withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol produces a very different effect, drunkenness. $\endgroup$ – apaul Jun 8 '17 at 2:16

Legalize marijuana.

Some people want to feel different. Like your men. MJ lets them scratch that itch. Weed is safer than alcohol in the short and long term: less organ damage, less potential to die of overdose or withdrawals, less aggressive behavior. People don't suffer from hangover related effects the next morning: less missed work. Marijuana is a superior recreational drug in comparison to alcohol.

The US is in the middle of an experiment about this. It is too soon to know for sure if legal MJ will really reduce alcohol use but one can hope. Here is Time stating beer sales are down in places with legal marijuana.


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    $\begingroup$ What's AM - the morning after, the aftermath? Also why is MJ an acronym, a google search for MJ brings up a singer-songwiter. $\endgroup$ – Pranab Jun 5 '17 at 5:24
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    $\begingroup$ Any idea on AM? I'd expect "in the A.M." if it were supposed to mean the morning after, but perhaps the OP can clarify. $\endgroup$ – Pranab Jun 5 '17 at 6:50
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    $\begingroup$ This will also increase pizza delivery sales boosting your economy. $\endgroup$ – Tomáš Zato Jun 5 '17 at 7:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Erik I find that people die from weed-induced bad decisions just as irrevocably as they die from alcohol-induced ones. Abuse will exist regardless of the substance, I just don't really see the improvement in terms of public health and safety. $\endgroup$ – AmiralPatate Jun 5 '17 at 8:03
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    $\begingroup$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. $\endgroup$ – Erik Jun 5 '17 at 10:16

Prohibit anyone other than the government from selling alcohol. Put your government alcohol outlets in dingy warehouses on out-of-town industrial estates, staffed by civil servants who have customer service skills that are too poor for them to work anywhere else. That is pretty much guaranteed to make alcohol deeply unfashionable, while preventing large-scale black market sales, since its availability from the government will cap the prices that black market dealers can get.

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    $\begingroup$ Sounds like Pennsylvania. $\endgroup$ – cde Jun 5 '17 at 18:09
  • $\begingroup$ as well as Virginia! the commonwealth's are all about control... $\endgroup$ – albert Jun 7 '17 at 2:21
  • $\begingroup$ From the OP I tried putting large taxes and limiting the stores that sell alcohol but that led to cottage industry of low quality moonshine sold on the black market. $\endgroup$ – KevinDTimm Jun 7 '17 at 15:28
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    $\begingroup$ @KevinDTimm Yes, but that's the taxes, not the limitation of who can sell alcohol. And it's important that it is sold incompetently by people who are bad at customer service, which wasn't mentioned. $\endgroup$ – Mike Scott Jun 7 '17 at 15:33
  • $\begingroup$ limiting the stores that sell alcohol could easily contain your argument $\endgroup$ – KevinDTimm Jun 7 '17 at 15:47

According to this Harvard professor, Prohibition in the US succeeded in decreasing alcohol consumption. His best guess is somewhere between 30-50%: http://www.nytimes.com/1989/10/16/opinion/actually-prohibition-was-a-success.html

Wikipedia also agrees: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prohibition_in_the_United_States#Rates_of_consumption_during_Prohibition

Conclusion: Prohibition in the US (which didn't actually make drinking illegal) decreased alcohol consumption, addiction, and deaths. That's a fact.

It's true that Prohibition lead to funding for criminal networks through illegal liquor sales. That could have been solved by stronger laws that were actually enforced and crushing criminal organisations. Good luck running a drug or crime syndicate in Singapore today. Crime needn't be a problem. It's just a matter of society's willingness to tolerate it. It really is as simple as that.

You could try religion, which changes the culture, and makes it morally "wrong". Making something illegal also generally tends to increase the "wrongness" of something. Although illegal drinking does occur in Islamic countries, it's only a fraction of the drinking in Western countries. Here's the list of countries where prohibition is enforced: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_with_alcohol_prohibition.

Broadly speaking, the way to modify human behaviour is either carrot (reward) or stick (punishment). Not sure about your tech level, but some ideas:

Carrot: Reward citizens for not drinking. If your technology is advanced enough, you could breathe into a networked device every day that recognizes your biological signature and sends your alcohol level results to the Government's drug department. If they do this every day for a year, they get a tax break or some other benefit. The bigger the benefit, the more people will give up drinking.

Stick: Punish citizens for drinking. If you get caught drinking, you get fined, flogged or sent to a punishment sphere (I played Alpha Centauri recently. Amazing game). If the punishment is harsh enough, drinking will decrease. Of course, by definition some citizens will dislike the stick.

In time, supply and demand will fall. Since it's pretty easy to make alcohol, eradicating drinking altogether is even more difficult. In the future in may be possible to make any substance with a miniature automated chemistry set.

Since alcohol is addictive, chronic drunks could be put in rehab centers where they can dry out. After that they can receive ongoing support to deal with their urges.

Bottom line, human behavior is about incentives. Bigger rewards and harsher punishments get results.

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    $\begingroup$ Prohibition may have succeeded in lowering alcohol consumption, but the cost was organized crime. Most would agree that this cost was prohibitive. $\endgroup$ – Stig Hemmer Jun 6 '17 at 7:52
  • $\begingroup$ @StigHemmer Facts and logic please. Got data? Cost in terms of what? Dollars, police deaths, what? Note that Prohibition in the US is one historical example. They didn't even make consumption illegal, just manufacture and distribution. Total prohibition is more or less successfully enforced in many countries today, mostly Islamic. In Singapore, drugs are a non-issue due to strong laws, and even alcohol is heavily taxed and regulated. The teetotal percentage Singapore is 60%: who.int/substance_abuse/publications/en/singapore.pdf $\endgroup$ – nmit026 Jun 6 '17 at 10:33
  • $\begingroup$ The idea that people are motivated by reward and punishment seems to be losing a lot of traction lately. bakadesuyo.com/2011/05/what-really-motivates-us $\endgroup$ – Erik Jun 6 '17 at 13:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Erik I think the key thing there is that reward and punishment schemes are quantifiable and measurable. It's easier to do experiments. The best way to "motivate" is to inspire like Elon Musk has done at his companies (our mission is to go to Mars and save humanity!). But how do you increase "inspiration" by 10% for a whole country? Good old fashioned state propaganda is more measurable, and that is also quite effective in changing public opinion, as is control of the mass media. $\endgroup$ – nmit026 Jun 6 '17 at 21:41
  • $\begingroup$ Just because it's "more measurable" doesn't mean it's better or more useful, just easier to quantify. You get what you measure, even if that's not what you want. $\endgroup$ – Erik Jun 7 '17 at 5:55

Give people a chance to succeed. Keep corruption under control, and provide opportunities for education that leads to meaningful work. There will always be a few people that will turn to drug or alcohol abuse, but seeing the potential to have a meaningful future is the best deterrent substance abuse.


Up the penalty for consuming alcohol to death by being flayed alive in the public square along with five, randomly-selected family members, with a guarantee that whatever family member(s) reports them prior to their arrest will be spared. Further, when the government catches moonshiners, give them methanol-tainted moonshine to distribute to all their customers (which will kill them painfully.) In return, give any moonshiner who succeeds in causing a noticeable uptick in methanol poisoning in his area a swift execution instead of a painful one, and spare his family.

Expect people to turn to other intoxicants instead of alchol, but you didn't say anything about that.

Do note that figuring out why people are consuming excessive quantities of alcohol and addressing that issue will solve the problem with a much lower body count, but it will also take government officials who are actually competent, whereas the proposed method merely requires finding a core group of vicious psychopaths and giving them license to hunt.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure what the downvote's for. The OP didn't ask for nice, friendly, cuddly-wuddly methods. He asked for effective methods. Secret police, horrendous penalties, and turning practically everyone into a government spy are not nice methods, but history demonstrates that they do work (at least until the revolt.) I would not suggest this as a method of choice for the real world, but for the worldbuilding forum it is something to consider based on the nature of the hypothetical government. $\endgroup$ – Perkins Jun 12 '17 at 23:58

There are several reasons for alcoholic consumption, and so there are several ways to stop it.

The main reason for alcoholic consumption is people being not happy with their lives, people who are homeless, idle and that are maybe in recent breakups, or recently lost someone they loved, are the most to be drinking alcohol, and so to reduce it, many regions have tried putting a fine on drinking, which clearly didn't work and in some cases, completely backfired.

So, seeing the reason they are drinking, the best way of making them stop drinking, is by fixing their lives, not telling them to stop, but making them stop, by maybe increasing physical activity, social interaction, etc....

This seems to be clearly the best way to stop alcoholic consumption in whatever region or place.


Simple answer - put heavy fines on making moonshine. Make sure this is enforced, and make sure police are kept on the alert about this.

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    $\begingroup$ The last time this was tried, it backfired colossally. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Jun 5 '17 at 14:18
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    $\begingroup$ @nmit026 You still had 60% alcohol consumptions and 80% of alcohol deaths, and at the same time a huge raise in criminal activity which soon expanded from alcohol production and distribution to non-alcohol-related crimes like racketeering. That's why it was repealed. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Jun 6 '17 at 10:40
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    $\begingroup$ @nmit026 I don't think it's "Western countries have falsely convinced themselves it doesn't" as it is "Western countries have realized it's not worth it". Maybe in OP's fictional society it's worth it, though. $\endgroup$ – Erik Jun 6 '17 at 13:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Wildcard Oh man, you're absolutely one hundred percent right. I wrote "legalization" instead of "criminalization". I'm an idiot. Thanks for pointing out my stupidity. $\endgroup$ – nmit026 Jun 7 '17 at 10:18
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    $\begingroup$ @nmit026 :D No problem, happens to everyone sooner or later. Just a typo. Very gratifying acknowledgement, though, thank you! :D $\endgroup$ – Wildcard Jun 7 '17 at 10:21

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