Drink special restrictions

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Some Evidence

Strategies with this rating are likely to work, but further research is needed to confirm effects. These strategies have been tested more than once and results trend positive overall.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers
Date last updated

Drink special restrictions prevent alcohol establishments from serving drinks at a reduced price via limits or bans. Drink specials are often referred to as happy hours and can include ladies’ nights, all-you-can-drink specials (i.e., unlimited drinks for a fixed price), and other promotions that provide free drinks or two-for-one specials. Restrictions vary by state: some states ban happy hours; some have restrictions by time or discount amount; others only ban unlimited drinks1, 2.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Reduced excessive drinking

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Reduced underage drinking

  • Reduced alcohol-related crashes

  • Improved health outcomes

What does the research say about effectiveness?

There is some evidence that restricting drink specials decreases excessive alcohol consumption3, 4, 5. Happy hour restrictions are a suggested strategy to reduce binge drinking, especially among college students1, 5. However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Drink promotions that reduce the price of alcohol increase planned6, 7 and actual alcohol consumption3, 4, 5. Younger college students, women, and individuals living on campus report greater intent to increase alcohol consumption in response to happy hour specials than peers who are older, men, or live off campus8.

Overall, alcohol consumption decreases when alcohol prices increase; effects have been shown for beer, wine, and spirits9, 10, 11. As alcohol prices increase, alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents, traffic offenses, violence, and negative health effects also decrease12, 13, 14, 15, especially among young adults13.

Lower alcohol prices are associated with increased underage and binge drinking among college students14, 16. Higher prices are associated with a lower risk of leaving an establishment intoxicated17. The price of beer may not influence alcohol consumption among college males, but its cost appears to affect the likelihood of underage and binge drinking by college women14.

How could this strategy impact health disparities? This strategy is rated no impact on disparities likely.
Implementation Examples

As of January 2018, Alaska, Indiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Utah, and Vermont ban drink specials or happy hours2. Some states allow drink specials or happy hours but ban unlimited drink specials. Others limit time of day or discount amount for happy hours2, 18


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1 RAND-Imm 2007 - Imm P, Chinman M, Wandersman A, et al. Preventing underage drinking: Using Getting To Outcomes™ with the SAMHSA strategic prevention framework to achieve results. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation; 2007: Technical Report 403.

2 APIS - Alcohol Policy Information System (APIS). Welcome to the Alcohol Policy Information System.

3 Nelson 2015 - Nelson JP. Binge drinking and alcohol prices: A systematic review of age-related results from econometric studies, natural experiments and field studies. Health Economics Review. 2015;5(6):1-13.

4 Kingsland 2013 - Kingsland M, Wolfenden L, Rowland BC, et al. Alcohol consumption and sport: A cross-sectional study of alcohol management practices associated with at-risk alcohol consumption at community football clubs. BMC Public Health. 2013;13(1):762.

5 NIAAA-Environmental strategies - National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). CollegeAIM: Environmental-level strategies.

6 Kaplan 2018 - Kaplan BA, Reed DD. Happy hour drink specials in the alcohol purchase task. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology. 2018;26(2):156-167.

7 Christie 2001 - Christie J, Fisher D, Kozup JC, et al. The effects of bar-sponsored alcohol beverage promotions across binge and nonbinge drinkers. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing. 2001;20(2):240–53.

8 Baldwin 2014 - Baldwin JM, Stogner JM, Miller BL. It’s five o’clock somewhere: An examination of the association between happy hour drinking and negative consequences. Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy. 2014;9(17):1-12.

9 CG-Alcohol - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Excessive alcohol consumption.

10 Wagenaar 2009 - Wagenaar AC, Salois MJ, Komro KA. Effects of beverage alcohol price and tax levels on drinking: A meta-analysis of 1003 estimates from 112 studies. Addiction. 2009;104(2):179-90.

11 Giesbrecht 2016 - Giesbrecht N, Wettlaufer A, Cukier S, Geddie G, Gonçalves A-H, Reisdorfer E. Do alcohol pricing and availability policies have differential effects on sub-populations? A commentary. International Journal of Alcohol and Drug Research. 2016;5(3):89-99.

12 Wagenaar 2010 - Wagenaar AC, Tobler AL, Komro KA. Effects of alcohol tax and price policies on morbidity and mortality: A systematic review. American Journal of Public Health. 2010;100(11):2270-8.

13 Purshouse 2010 - Purshouse RC, Meier PS, Brennan A, Taylor KB, Rafia R. Estimated effect of alcohol pricing policies on health and health economic outcomes in England: An epidemiological model. Lancet. 2010;375(9723):1355–64.

14 Chaloupka 2002 - Chaloupka FJ, Grossman M, Saffer H. The effects of price on alcohol consumption and alcohol-related problems. Alcohol Research & Health: The Journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 2002;26(1):22–34.

15 Adrian 2001 - Adrian M, Ferguson BS, Her M. Can alcohol price policies be used to reduce drunk driving? Evidence from Canada. Substance Use & Misuse. 2001;36(13):1923–57.

16 Wechsler 2000 - Wechsler H, Kuo M, Lee H, Dowdall GW. Environmental correlates of underage alcohol use and related problems of college students. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2000;19(1):24–9.

17 O’Mara 2009 - O’Mara RJ, Thombs DL, Wagenaar AC, et al. Alcohol price and intoxication in college bars. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. 2009;33(11):1973–80.

18 Happy hour laws 2015 - Love C. Here's where you can - and can't - get your happy hour on. Huffpost. 2015.