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In the 1970s, anthropologists increasingly turned from descriptive ethnographic work to more applied or practical studies in many fields, and this was especially true with respect to alcohol. Sources of funding also increased markedly in fields of public health and social welfare, while simultaneously decreasing for non-problem-oriented ethnography. Anthropologists have increasingly been employed by institutions that emphasize the costs rather than an impartial view of drinking, so that more recent anthropological writings on the subject have similarly tended to emphasize the abuse rather than use of alcohol, various kinds of risks and harm of alcohol consumption, the prevention or lessening of such problems, and treatment to help problem drinkers.

Anthropologists have never played a dominant role in the emerging field of alcohol studies, but they continuously provided minority views that have been important reminders to others who have a less global or holistic approach. At the outset, a confrontation with the reality of cultural differences provided a salutary challenge to understandings that had been built up on the basis of "mainstream Middle Americans." Critical analysis of drunken comportment in historical and ethnographic perspective disproved the dominant pharmacological interpretation of disinhibition. Transnational studies showed that how people drink must be considered in looking at problems, and not merely how much they drink.

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