This paper discusses and criticizes the recurrent theme of "responsible drinking" that has been expressed in most educational programmes and media campaigns aimed at the prevention of alcohol abuse. Data on the impact of several such campaigns are reviewed and it is concluded that there is little evidence to date that the programmes have produced marked changes in attitudes. It is pointed out, however, that even if changes in attitudes could be demonstrated, this would not necessarily mean that the desired changes in behavior would have been achieved. Based on the distribution of consumption approach to understanding alcohol-related damage, it is suggested that the problem of changing behavior can best be addressed through social policy that manipulates market and other environmental variables that control availability and accessibility of alcoholic beverages. This approach to primary prevention then dictates that public educational campaigns might best be used to convince the general public of the need for specific alcohol control measures designed to prevent the rising incidence of alcohol-related damage. © 1979.
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