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What Are Dry Counties & Their Impact on Alcohol Use

Although alcohol is legal in the United States for people over the age of 21, there are still some places with hefty restrictions. While walking into the grocery store to buy a bottle of wine or getting alcohol delivered right to your door may be a reality for some people, others can’t even find a local liquor store.

What is A Dry County?

A dry county is a county in the United States that prohibits the sale of alcohol by the local municipality. This ban can include alcohol sales from stores as well as at restaurants. In contrast, “wet” counties do not have limitations and “moist” counties have some restrictions.1

Also in some cases, counties are not dry, but states and local municipalities will have laws in place with limitations such as no alcohol sales on Sunday or only being able to buy alcohol from state-run liquor stores. Although it may be hard to believe, there are still dry counties in the United States as well as dry towns and dry communities.

The history of dry counties dates back to pre-prohibition times in some case. Once prohibition was repealed, many places lifted restrictions while several other places continued to keep tight limitations on alcohol including the ban of sales.1

One of the reasons why there are still dry counties appears to be connected to religion. In some religious denominations, alcohol consumption is looked down upon. As a result, the local municipalities where these denominations have a strong presence have voted to keep these tight restrictions in place.

Can You Drink in A Dry County?

Typically, yes, you can still drink in a dry county. Although the sale of alcohol may be prohibited, most dry counties do not ban the consumption of alcoholic beverages outright. Although the 21ST amendment did repeal prohibition in the United States, it also gave states the right to regulate the alcohol industry as they saw fit. Some states have opted to allow local municipalities to make their own decisions regarding alcohol laws resulting in dry counties, while others will not allow local prohibition for alcohol sales.1

In most cases, people living in a dry county can still drink, but they need to purchase their drinks outside of county lines and can then drink legally at home.

How Many Dry Counties are in the U.S.?

While the number of dry counties and dry towns has drastically decreased over time, there are still dry communities throughout the United States. The exact up-to-date number is hard to nail down, but by some accounts there are over 80 dry counties left in 9 different states in the United States.2

Arkansas is home to the most dry counties with over 30, followed by Kentucky.2 Most remaining dry communities are in the South; a fact that plays into dry counties’ religious ties.

Are Dry Counties Safer than Wet Counties?

Alcohol abuse is a common problem throughout the United States, but doe the ban on alcohol sales in these areas help decrease the number of people struggling?

When comparing dry counties to wet counties, there appears to not be much of a difference when it comes to the binge drinking rate. One comparison in Alabama found that several dry counties had higher rates of binge drinking than the state average.3 Binge drinking can result in several dangers including death from alcohol poisoning.

Unfortunately, the dangers may not stop there. Other evidence suggests that deaths from driving under the influence of alcohol occur more often in dry counties than wet counties. A look at Texas over a five-year period found that the average alcohol-related traffic fatalities for its 46 dry counties was a rate of 6.8 per 10,000 people. In contrast, the 38 wet counties were only at a rate of 1.9 per 10,000 people for this same time.4

This same pattern appears to hold true in Kentucky. Data on several different counties, including those that transitioned from dry to moist or wet, found that in general dry counties tended to have a higher rate of DWI-related crashes.5 Researchers surmise that the high number of driving fatalities is in part due to people in dry counties needing to drive extended distances to get alcohol.4

While dry counties may not be as effective in reducing alcohol-related harms as some people may hope, there is evidence to suggest that other restrictions on alcohol sales may be beneficial. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests limiting the number of days when alcohol can be sold, citing research that suggests that doing so has shown to decrease consumption, alcohol-related violence, and DWIs.6

Similarly, the CDC also recommends limiting the time in which alcohol can be sold as research has found that increasing the sale of alcohol by two or more hours resulted in increased consumption and motor vehicle crashes.7

Although the best way to go about decreasing the dangers from alcohol use is still being navigated, there is no doubt that alcohol abuse and misuse can have serious consequences regardless of whether someone lives in a dry or wet county. If you or someone you care about is struggling with dependence on alcohol, stop waiting to act. Our admissions navigators can help you find an alcohol addiction treatment center that meets your need, so you or your loved one get on the path to sobriety.