A Promising New Way to Curb Problem Drinking
and Reduce Costs
Photo by MorePixels/iStock
Alcohol consumption can impose enormous health and safety costs on individuals and society, and problem drinkers account for a disproportionate share of these costs. Although millions of problem drinkers pass through the criminal justice system each year, reducing their alcohol consumption has proven difficult.
Recently, the Senate took steps to expand funding for 24/7 Sobriety Programs, like one in South Dakota. These programs are a promising and innovative way to help curb problem drinking and improve public health. The 24/7 Sobriety Program requires those arrested for or convicted of alcohol-involved offenses to take twice-a-day breathalyzer tests or wear a continuous alcohol monitoring bracelet. Those who fail or skip their tests are immediately subject to swift, certain but modest sanctions—typically a day or two in jail. RAND researchers published the first peer-reviewed evaluation of whether 24/7 improved public health in South Dakota, and the findings were encouraging:
- 24/7 reduced repeat DUI arrests at the county level by 12 percent.
- 24/7 reduced arrests for domestic violence at the county level by 9 percent.
- With respect to traffic crashes, the evidence was less conclusive. 24/7 did not reduce overall traffic crashes, but there is suggestive evidence that crashes among males age 18-40 fell as a result of the program.
Expanding these programs would provide an important opportunity to learn more about how this program might curb problem drinking and reduce societal costs. So what are next steps if this program expands?
- Investment in experimental evaluations that provide further evidence on the causal effects of programs that adopt innovative deterrence approaches like this one is important to help ensure federal resources are spent wisely.
- It is also critical that researchers study whether 24/7 can work outside South Dakota in both rural and urban areas.
- Finally, it will also be useful to explore how testing programs with swift and certain sanctions can best incorporate positive incentives for compliance as well as treatment services.
More on the 24/7 Sobriety Project »
For questions or to discuss this project, please contact Laura Patton or Kerry Allen.
Public Safety and Transportation & Infrastructure Legislative Analyst
(703) 413-1100 ext. 5423
Health Legislative Analyst
(703) 413-1100 ext. 5774