Neighborhood Traits Can Predict Alcohol Drinking Patterns, Says Study

More alcohol means more drinking, right? However, researchers from the University of Washington would beg to differ. A study published in the Journal of Urban Health suggests that neighborhoods that are rife with poverty and characterized as highly disorganized may contribute to problematic drinking more than the easily availabile alcohol outlets.

The above association between alcohol use and high rates of poverty and disorganization may not come as a surprise to many, but the study suggests that there is more than what meets the eye. Over the decades, there has been a growing interest in understanding how a neighborhood determines the drinking patterns of people.

Contrary to the popular belief, environmental factors, such as quality of life in the neighborhood, and not the availability of substance, play a pivotal role in triggering substance use disorder (SUD) among the users. Therefore, it is essential to improve the quality of life in the neighborhood to dissuade people from digressing toward substance abuse.

Previously, law enforcement officials and scholars focused on delivering punitive actions for serious crimes like drug abuse. However, their outlook is now more focused on understanding the chain of events that lead to the development of such serious misdemeanors.

Neighborhoods perceived as unsafe create a sense of fear among its residents. Such localities are also associated with the weakening of social controls and barriers that deter crime. When both the feeling of insecurity and crime feed into one another, there is an increased risk of developing SUD.

Socioeconomic factors may diminish availability of alcohol

The study followed the principles of “broken windows” theory for reducing crime-related factors in the neighborhood by implementing programs, services, or clean-up initiatives to ensure improvement and more discipline. This also complements the means to another goal-reducing problematic drinking in neighborhoods.

The study entailed the assessment of various neighborhood factors that contribute to alcohol. It also included elements of another study by the university’s Social Development Research Group that has been following 531 adults who were fifth graders at the time of the study.

After finding out the participants’ census block groups (a geographic area of roughly 1,000 people), demographic data of the neighborhood, and information related to the numbers of outlets that sold hard liquor by engaging the participants with questions about alcohol use and their views on their neighborhoods.

This allowed the researchers to classify neighborhoods based on several factors, such as crime, availability of substances, poverty level, crime and graffiti. After determining the key features for classification, they also identified five neighborhood subtypes and their association with alcohol use:

  • High socioeconomic disadvantage
  • Moderate disadvantage
  • Low disadvantage
  • Low poverty and high disorganization
  • High alcohol availability

The study also witnessed the 2011 Washington state law that privatized liquor sales that increased the availability of alcohol from 300 state-run liquor stores to over 1,500 pharmacies, grocery stores and warehouse clubs. The findings of the study were as follows:

  • Residents of neighborhoods chiefly characterized by high poverty and disorganization were found to drink twice as much in a week than the residents of other types of neighborhood.
  • Binge drinking (characterized by four drinks in a session for women and five for men) was found to be four times more prominent in high poverty and disorganized neighborhoods compared to other types of neighborhoods.

The conclusion of the study falls in line with the findings of the previous research that suggest that individuals in lower income neighborhoods are at a great risk for developing alcohol-related problems. It also emphasizes that neighborhoods with greater alcohol availability were not always consistent with increased alcohol use among its residents, signaling that socioeconomic factors may drive problematic drinking in some neighborhoods.

Ensure riddance from alcohol

Individuals living in high-risk neighborhoods are associated with the highest levels of typical and binge drinking. Although there is a strong link between the availability of alcohol and social problems like crime, violence, and drinking and driving, it does necessarily indicate heavy alcohol use.