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Does Alcohol Need Warning Labels?

If you are among the people who roll their eyes when reading a warning label that a coffee cup’s contents are hot, then you will likely wonder why some are reviving the suggestion that adding labels to alcohol bottles warning of addiction may prevent some drinkers from developing substance abuse problems. Does this need exist, or are the problems associated with chronic drinking already obvious?

Dismissed With Prejudice

A recent Idaho ruling struck down a complaint asking for $1 billion in damages that would have required alcohol manufacturers to warn consumers about the dangers of alcohol abuse. The judge in the case rejected the plaintiff’s claim that he would not have started drinking had he known that reasonable drinking can lead to alcoholism in those predisposed to substance abuse. “The duty to warn of a product’s dangerous propensities is limited to situations wherein the danger is not obvious,’” according to The decision also noted “It would be next to impossible to create an effective warning label that would warn of the myriad combinations of alcohol use and of human characteristics that might contribute to alcoholism. And, even if it could be done, it would be unnecessary, because the danger of alcoholism is subsumed in the general dangers of alcohol commonly known to the public.”

A Question of Personal Responsibility

Although the plaintiff’s claim that many people don’t understand the link between addiction and genetics may be true, not everyone who demonstrates a predisposition to substance abuse becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol. At what point does common sense — as well as taking responsibility for one’s own actions, which is an essential part of any reputable drug and alcoholism treatment program — become the rule, rather than the exception to the rule? In addition, ask yourself: do I believe that warning labeling on cigarettes prevents people from smoking? Unlike cigarettes that offer no health benefits, alcohol can improve health in limited and carefully controlled quantities, and the vast majority of people who drink alcohol do so responsibly and without consequence. And unlike illicit drugs such as heroin, alcohol will certainly be legal and readily available in stores, restaurants, bars, and homes across America for many, many years into the future.

Educating Ourselves, Educating Our Family Members

It’s up to us to take responsibility for learning more about the dangers of alcohol and drugs, including addiction risk factors and the signs of early abuse. It’s up to us to watch our family members and friends carefully for signs of abuse, and get help from a drug or alcohol addiction treatment center when necessary. We cannot rely on corporate labeling practices to protect us from the dangers of addiction — we can only rely on ourselves. Image: Jim Sher

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