Alcohol Availability is a Social Justice Issue


By Michael Sparks, Alcohol Policy Specialist


The availability of alcohol is, and always has been, a social justice issue. Currently, the alcohol prevention field is intentionally moving to understand alcohol’s historical role in racism, cultural appropriation, sexism, and oppression.

Community organizations focused on alcohol, tobacco, and other drug (ATOD) prevention should be on the front lines pushing back against pressure from the alcohol industry. We need to resist the relentless expansion of availability to as many retail settings as possible, counter industry-driven efforts to increase access to high-risk, high-alcohol content and cheap flavored alcohol beverages or products, and restrict opportunistic promotion of these products.

Communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionally targeted by the alcohol industry to promote the sale of more alcohol and increase profits. It is in these communities that we need to redouble our prevention efforts to counter the overwhelming pressure to consume alcohol and thereby reduce individual and community harm. Responses to industry tactics require equity-focused, systemic policy development. Educational strategies alone are not enough.

Working in disproportionally impacted communities requires care, especially if coalition prevention staff are not part of the communities of interest. Consider the following before engaging a new group of individuals that represent a community with disproportionate use patterns:

Does your coalition:

  • Reflect diverse resident representation from the community of interest?
  • Share decision-making with community members outside your coalition/group?
  • Address unjust conditions that have harmed the health and well-being of specific underserved residents in your area of interest?
  • Demonstrate a commitment to transparency regarding your organizational policy agenda?
  • Support residents defining their own needs and conditions in your community of interest with a commitment to connecting them to resources, opportunities, and/or organizations addressing identified local concerns?
  • Implement resident- identified policies that effectively change their community conditions?
  • Ensure that policy development and implementation inflict no harm and examine potential intended and unintended consequences on community residents?
  • Provide opportunities that develop leaders from within the community of interest, including hiring processes, training, and leadership development opportunities?


We are building a “movement” to build power to counter the alcohol industry’s intentional systematic predatory exploitation of low-income and communities of color. Consider how your coalition can join this movement. You can begin by joining us for a webinar being held Tuesday, February 27, Alcohol, Equity, and Social Justice: Breaking the Silence.

Michael sparks

Michael Sparks is an Alcohol Policy Specialist and Co-Chair for the U.S. Alcohol Policy Alliance Advisory Board. He is also the President of SparksInitiatives. Michael currently serves as a consultant and trainer to communities across the country and is a trainer for Community Anti-drug Coalitions of America. He also works in a consulting role with Wake Forest University and Johns Hopkins University on alcohol policy issues. He has expertise in the alcohol policy field as well as in the areas of community building, using local control strategies to manage problematic alcohol and drug environments, the legislative process, and neighborhood revitalization. 

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