Have you ever actually read the warning label on a bottle of alcohol or a can of beer? It’s sort of like the three pages of possible side effects that come with a new prescription medication – you know they exist but you’re pretty sure none of it’s going to happen to you, so why bother reading it? This is especially true if it’s any kind of effort to do so, like if the words are small or hard to locate or there are symbols you don’t understand. If you even bothered to look in the first place, you’d probably just shrug and forget about it. As it turns out, even if you did read the warnings, they might not be all that effective.

For one thing, the actual warnings aren’t all that scary or informative. The language is mandated by the Alcoholic Beverage Labeling Act (ABLA), part of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988. It says: “GOVERNMENT WARNING: According to the Surgeon General, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects.  Consumption of alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery, and may cause health problems.” This seems to suggest that if you aren’t pregnant or planning on driving a car, there are no concerns at all to be had about drinking. Of course, we know that’s not true, as even putting aside the risk of dependence or alcoholism, drinking can cause a wide variety of health problems.

Another problem is the way the warnings are situated on the product. The labeling act requires that the warning be in a “conspicuous and prominent place,” but a quick look at the backs of a few different alcohol beverages shows that this doesn’t mean they have to be front and center. A can of Budweiser Freedom Reserve has a busy, red white and blue label, with stars and a stylized eagle, along with a lengthy description of the ingredients and taste. It also informs you that it’s inspired by George Washington’s recipe. After all that, who is going to notice or take the time to read the government warning crammed into a black and white box, especially since you’d have to turn the can sideways to read it? Some bottles of alcohol, if they have a nutrition label, will place the warning underneath it, making it look like part of the nutrition facts and therefore not of particular interest to people who aren’t watching their weight.


Studies have shown that while the idea of alcohol warning labels are popular with the public, they have little effect on changing drinking behavior. Perhaps a better method would be a warning that clearly states the consequences of too much drinking.

If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504 to get started.