Academic journal article Alcohol Research

Linking Science to Policy: The Role of International Collaborative Research. (International Perspectives)

Academic journal article Alcohol Research

Linking Science to Policy: The Role of International Collaborative Research. (International Perspectives)

Article excerpt

This article traces the modern history of alcohol policy research on an international level, focusing on cross-national collaborative studies, a recent phenomenon that has dramatically increased our scientific understanding of how alcohol-related problems can be prevented or reduced through organized action by governments and public health organizations. The studies reviewed here show that during the past 25 years, a small but growing cadre of alcohol research professionals has used a problem-focused, integrative research approach to more closely align alcohol research with public policy. KEY WORDS: public policy on alcohol or other drug (AOD); alcoholic beverage control system; international AOD-related (AODR) problems; history of AOD public policy; harm reduction policy; collaboration; public-private cooperative prevention; prevention research

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Although governmental authorities have attempted to prevent alcohol problems since antiquity; the scientific study of such problems and the use of alcohol research to inform public policy have been rather recent developments. Not until the rise of modern medicine and the emergence of the world Temperance Movement during the 19th century was alcohol policy (1) recognized as a potential instrument of public health, nor was epidemiological research viewed as a potential instrument of alcohol policy. During the 20th century, numerous attempts were made to employ social science techniques, such as population surveys and trend analyses of mortality data, to evaluate the effects of a wide range of policy options (Babor 1993; Edwards et al. 1994). Such policies included total prohibition, State monopolies, drinking-and-driving laws, school-based alcohol education, alcohol taxation, legislative controls on alcohol availability, age restrictions on alcohol purchasing, and media information campaigns. By the 1970s, social scientists, often under the guidance of the World Health Organization (WHO) or their national governments, began to collaborate across national boundaries to study the effects of alcohol policies on alcohol-related problems.

One major advantage of international scientific collaboration is the ability of participating scientists to compare and contrast a broad array of policy options across different countries. The comparative approach also helps in understanding the cultural idiosyncrasies of drinking and the historical determinants of alcohol policies. This article traces the modern history of international policy analysis in the alcohol field by describing a series of innovative and influential cross-national studies that have been published in the past 25 years (see table). These studies, which have been initiated at a relatively constant rate during that time period, have used a variety of approaches--ranging from clinical trials to expert opinions--to arrive at their conclusions. This review provides a global perspective on the growing sophistication of alcohol policy research and its relevance to the challenges of the 21st century.

THE "ALCOHOL CONTROL POLICIES IN PUBLIC HEALTH PERSPECTIVE" MONOGRAPH

For the purposes of this review, the modern history of international collaboration in the area of alcohol policy research began with the publication of a seminal monograph entitled Alcohol Control Policies in Public Health Perspective (Bruun et al. 1975)--often referred to as the "Purple Book" because of its cover. Sponsored by the WHO's European Office, this international collaborative project brought together alcohol researchers from 13 countries who debated policy issues, evaluated original data, and critically reviewed the world literature on prevention measures. The international working group drew its scientific expertise from academic settings and research centers in the Scandinavian countries, the United Kingdom, and North America. The resulting monograph drew attention to the preventable nature of alcohol problems throughout the world and to the role of national governments and international agencies in forming rational and effective alcohol policies. …

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