Intern Lily Deware: What is the difference between prohibition and prevention?

The concepts of prohibition and prevention are often lumped together and confused when talking about alcohol consumption. Because of this, it is important to differentiate between the two.

When someone hears the word prohibition, it is likely that their first thought is about the 18th amendment and the national prohibition that was put in place from 1920-1933 in the United States. This biggest misconception about this time is the idea that prohibition meant no alcohol consumption at all. Although this amendment did aim to reduce alcohol intake, it never prohibited alcohol consumption, but outlawed the manufacturing, sale, and transportation instead. This is why places such as speakeasies and the bootlegging industry rose in popularity. Besides reducing alcohol consumption and drinking related crimes/complications, this amendment was put in place in an effort to save grains during wartime to produce food, as well as act as a protector for women with regard to drunken spousal battery.

The aim of prevention programs is to stop or prevent a negative outcome of something. Based on this definition, an alcohol prevention program or an organization such as Winooski Partnership for Prevention has a goal of preventing the use of a substance in excess because it often leads to substance abuse and misuse. Prevention works to provide resources, educate, and empower others within the community. Along with this, prevention programs highlight the risks of substance abuse and address ever changing cultural norms- especially those in which support the growing normalization and substance misuse within underaged populations.

Although both prohibition and prevention aim to reduce the consumption of specific substances, neither entirely prohibit it. Learning from the downfalls of the prohibition movement, prevention programs were created in an effort to reduce the chance of negative outcomes of substance consumption.

It is one thing to learn the facts about two commonly conjoined concepts, but I believe that it is just as beneficial to learn from peers as well. Because of this, I decided to ask some of my friends prompting questions on this topic. Questions such as, “Do you know the difference between prohibition and prevention?” and “Why do you think these concepts are commonly confused?” made up my dialogue with them. The most common responses were along the lines of, “They both don’t like drinking and try to prevent it.” Being a college student, a lot of student life seems to revolve around party culture. Because of this, I was not surprised by the fact that almost all of the answers my friends gave me provided a negative connotation for both prohibition and prevention. Although I agreed with them that the prohibition era backfired and was not all good, I was shocked that the idea of prevention was grouped with it. It seems as though on its own the word prevention is seen in a positive way, but as soon as it is combined with things like ‘substance prevention,’ it is seen entirely differently.

Resources Editors. “Prohibition.”, A&E Television Networks, 29 Oct. 2009,
Olson S, Gerstein DR. Alcohol in America: Taking Action to Prevent Abuse. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1985. 
“Why Prohibition?” The Ohio State University, 2020,