Why Prohibiting Alcohol at Festivals is Killing Our Livers

With the stretch in the evenings beginning to creep back into conversations and the sight of pale pasty legs becoming a more frequent site we know that the Irish summer is on it’s way; and with it will come festival season. A truly wonderful time of year where fashion, bathing, and common sense can be left at home and music and under cooked food can be enjoyed in muddy fields with friends and family. Although there is one aspect of festival season which tends to get a bit messy; the drinking.

Festivals are of course a time to enjoy yourself, but there is always the one or two who take the drinking that step too far. This is what leads festival organisers to put in place restrictions on the amount of alcohol which can be brought into the festival by people. And on the face of it, that doesn’t actually seem like a bad idea; too much alcohol can cause issues, therefore restrict the amount of alcohol and there won’t be those issues.

However in practice, restricting the use of a substance is one of the worst things you can do to curtail the negative effects of it’s consumption. That may sound counter intuitive but studies have actually shown that when you try to prohibit the consumption of a substance people actually consume more severe variations of that substance than they did before. It’s called; the Iron Law of Prohibition.

The Iron Law of Prohibition states that if law enforcement becomes more intense, the potency of prohibited substances increases. While this may sound strange, it actually does make sense. For example, let’s say that you wanted to bring alcohol into a music festival, but the organisers prohibited it. Your only option, if you still want to consume alcohol, is to sneak it into the festival; and that means choosing a drink which is easy to hide (small) but still able to get you drunk (potent). This is why people resort to drinking spirits like vodka and whiskey when alcohol is prohibited. It’s easier to sneak in and packs more of a punch than beer.

What is so annoying about this is that reports find that the most popular type of alcohol in Ireland by far is beer which ranges in potency from only 3-6%. However, when alcohol is prohibited people switch to harder liquors like vodka and whiskey just because they are easier to conceal but these drinks range from 35-40% in potency and are much easier and faster to drink, which can ultimately lead to more cases of alcohol poisoning and alcohol related deaths as they did during the years of American prohibition.

Historically, drug policies have always had a tendency to just ban substances outright, and while this strategy is implemented with good intentions, it often leads to forcing people toward the black market for goods which aren’t regulated or tested and often exist in very strong forms because they are easier to ship and conceal that way.

Ultimately this leads to more overdoses and drug related deaths than in countries like Portugal and Switzerland where the consumption of drugs is regulated instead of prohibited. I hope that provides some food for thought for the government of my own country, Ireland, who have one of the highest drug related death rates in Europe.

Drug Induced Mortality Rates        Source: Ireland, Country Drug Report 2018

By Daragh O’Leary



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