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Preventing Excessive Alcohol Consumption: Overservice Law Enforcement Initiatives

Overservice law enforcement initiatives are proactive community efforts to increase the enforcement of laws that prohibit the service of alcoholic beverages to intoxicated customers. Alcohol Beverage Control personnel or plainclothes or uniformed police carry out enforcement, which may include fines or licensing actions.

Overservice law enforcement initiatives often involve two more components. The first is to notify alcohol beverage outlets of enforcement plans in order to foster the awareness essential for effective deterrence. The second is to provide information or training to help outlet managers and staff comply with overservice laws by learning how to better recognize intoxicated customers and by providing strategies to prevent overservice. Because overservice laws are not actively enforced in many communities, overservice law enforcement initiatives often involve increases in enforcement from low baseline levels.

Not all U.S. states provide definitions of intoxication in their overservice regulations, and the definitions in use are inconsistent. Law enforcement officers and servers may recognize patron intoxication by tracking the number of alcoholic beverages served or by looking for physiological and behavioral characteristics that become more apparent as alcohol consumption increases (e.g., bloodshot eyes, flushed face, slurred speech, lack of balance and coordination).

Summary of Task Force Recommendations and Findings

The Community Preventive Services Task Force finds insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of overservice law enforcement initiatives as a means to reduce excessive alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harms, because of the small number of available studies and inconsistent findings.

Task Force Finding and Rationale Statement

Results from the Systematic Review

Two studies qualified for the review.

  • Studies were conducted in Washington state and Michigan.
  • Both studies provided information about efforts to raise awareness about the initiative and its enforcement.
  • One study (with a greater intensity of enhanced enforcement) found substantial and statistically significant benefits of the overservice enforcement initiative on all of the outcomes assessed (Michigan).
    • Service to individuals pretending to be intoxicated customers: decrease of 28.5% in intervention settings, compared with control settings.
    • People arrested for DUI who reported consuming their last drink in a bar or restaurant: decrease of 26.5% in intervention settings, compared with control settings.
  • The other study found inconsistent and statistically nonsignificant results for outcomes assessing overservice and alcohol-impaired driving (Washington state).
  • Overall, several results pointed in a comparable direction. The estimated effects on the most reliable health outcomes—those related to DUI—showed beneficial effects in both studies.

These results were based on a systematic review of all available studies, conducted on behalf of the Task Force by a team of specialists in systematic review methods, and in research, practice and policy related to excessive alcohol consumption.

Economic Evidence

An economic review of this intervention was not conducted because the Task Force did not have enough information to determine if the intervention works.

Supporting Materials

Publications

Rammohan V, Hahn RA, Elder R, Brewer R, Fielding J, Naimi TS, Toomey TL, Chattopadhyay SK, Zometa C, Task Force on Community Preventive Services. Effects of dram shop liability and enhanced overservice law enforcement initiatives on excessive alcohol consumption and related harms: two Community Guide systematic reviews Adobe PDF File [PDF - 582 kB]. Am J Prev Med 2011;41(3):334-43.

Task Force on Community Preventive Services.Recommendations on dram shop liability and overservice law enforcement initiatives to prevent excessive alcohol consumption and related harms Adobe PDF File [PDF - 62 kB]. Am J Prev Med 2011;41(3):344-6.

Read other Community Guide publications about Preventing Excessive Alcohol Consumption in our library.

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Disclaimer

The findings and conclusions on this page are those of the Community Preventive Services Task Force and do not necessarily represent those of CDC. Task Force evidence-based recommendations are not mandates for compliance or spending. Instead, they provide information and options for decision makers and stakeholders to consider when determining which programs, services, and policies best meet the needs, preferences, available resources, and constraints of their constituents.

Sample Citation

The content of publications of the Guide to Community Preventive Services is in the public domain. Citation as to source, however, is appreciated. Sample citation: Guide to Community Preventive Services. Preventing excessive alcohol consumption: overservice law enforcement initiatives. www.thecommunityguide.org/alcohol/overservice.html. Last updated: MM/DD/YYYY.

Review completed: March 2010