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A Healthy Return on Your Town Hall Meeting Investment—Getting to Outcomes: Happy Hour Restrictions


In today’s tight economy, consumers are looking for sales, discounts, and special promotions to get the most for their money. But smart shoppers arm themselves with facts about which products and services really are a good investment and which ones they might later regret purchasing. “Happy hours” and other promotions that offer free and cheaply priced drinks are a good example of practices that can lead consumers to potentially regrettable decisions. Enlightened communities across America are advocating for limitations on such practices, known generally as happy hour restrictions, because they know that any activity that encourages the excessive use of alcohol and underage drinking is no bargain for anyone. For 2010, total costs associated with underage drinking in the United States were estimated at $62 billion. A Mayo Clinic study just published in the Journal of Adolescent Health estimates that the hospital costs associated with underage drinking alone amount to $755 million annually. Communities can help reduce these costs and achieve measurable reductions in underage drinking by initiating or strengthening “happy hour” restrictions as proven environmental prevention.1

What are happy hour restrictions?
Alcohol promotions such as happy hours, drinking contests, and “all-you-can-drink” specials encourage overconsumption by reducing prices, with often tragic results. Happy hour restrictions aim to reduce negative consequences by, for example, prohibiting:

  • Reduced pricing during specific days or times;
  • Free beverages;
  • Two-for-one drink specials;
  • Additional servings;
  • Unlimited beverages at a set price and time;
  • Increased drink volume; and
  • Drinks as prizes.

How do happy hour restrictions reduce underage drinking and its consequences?
As the price of alcohol decreases, alcohol consumption, intoxication, and driving after drinking increase, especially among minors. Happy hours restrictions work to reduce underage drinking and its consequences by making alcohol less affordable and appealing to young people. These restrictions also may discourage young people from engaging in another illegal activity: the use of false identification.

How can my community take this action?
Your community can take the following steps to initiate or strengthen happy hour restrictions:

  • Determine if or what happy hour restrictions are in place. According to Preventing Over-Consumption of Alcohol—Sales to the Intoxicated and “Happy Hour” (Drink Special) Laws, a 2005 report of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 27 States prohibited happy hours and/or drink specials. If your State has few or no restrictions, mobilize your community to enact or expand prevention measures. Happy hour restrictions can be imposed at the city, county, or State level. See “Helpful Resources” for a link to sample legislation.
  • Raise public awareness. Help the community and local leadership understand the link between happy hours and increased alcohol problems, such as alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes and fatalities.
  • Enlist the critical support of law enforcement. Many States place restrictions on at least one type of happy hour or similar type of promotions; however, the 2005 NHTSA report found that enforcement of restrictions is low.
  • Measure and report successful outcomes. Build public support for sustained happy hour restrictions by charting their effectiveness. Potential outcomes to measure may be reductions in:
    • Rates of driving under the influence;
    • Rates of alcohol-related crime;
    • Number of motor vehicle crashes and related youth fatalities; and
    • Number of alcohol-related injuries.

Helpful Resources

Sample State policies on happy hours and drink specials are available from the U.S. Department of Education’s Underage Drinking Enforcement Training Center.

Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America offers a technical assistance resource publication, Responsible Beverage Service, to help prevention professionals.

SAMHSA’s Focus on Prevention guides communities in planning and delivering substance abuse prevention strategies, including assessing needs, identifying partners, creating effective strategies, and evaluating programs.

The Surgeon General’s Call to Action To Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking: What It Means to You: A Guide to Action for Communities summarizes facts and recommendations from the 2007 Surgeon General’s appeal to the Nation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s The Health Communicator’s Social Media Toolkit has information to expand your organization’s outreach.

1 Effective environmental prevention targets four key areas that influence alcohol problems: access and availability, policy and enforcement, community norms, and media messages. Research shows that policies that change the context of the environment, limit access to alcohol, and prevent harmful behavior will result in reduced alcohol use, including underage drinking.