Advocates of increased government regulation of intoxicating substances often cite the "social cost" of such goods. A close examination of studies that calculate the social cost of intoxication reveals a variety of recurring methodological errors. These studies do not clearly distinguish external costs from private costs. They do not systematically compare the costs associated with the regulation of intoxicant use with the costs of intoxicant consumption, nor do they even estimate the social benefits associated with intoxication or compare them with the social costs. Unless these problems are addressed, social cost calculation will be dismissed as a tool for political lobbying. Copyright 1992 Western Economic Association International.
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