Researchers Unravel the Ways Income and Liquor Stores are Related to Neighborhood Drinking

Residents of wealthier neighborhoods drink alcohol twice as frequently as people in poorer areas, a new study suggests. The neighborhood environment is known to be associated with alcohol use. But the separate effects of various factors — for example, average income and the number of off-sales outlets — are complex, situational, and difficult to unravel. A new study in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research demonstrates a sampling technique that isolates these influences. It explores how certain individual characteristics interacted with certain neighborhood characteristics among 984 survey respondents.

For the East Bay Neighborhoods Study, researchers compared 72 “microenvironments” of 200 residents each, in six Californian cities. They stratified the sites according to median neighborhood household income and the density of off-premise alcohol outlets, and used statistical analysis to identify associations between these and other factors. The study drew on self-reported data on alcohol dependence, drinking frequency, quantity, and total volume over 28 days. Respondents also submitted demographic information. Investigators collected data on characteristics of the 72 sites, including physical disorder and decay.

The investigation revealed distinct and sometimes surprising patterns. In contrast with previous studies, more off-premise outlets were not linked to heavier drinking or more problem drinking. Average income, however, had striking associations. Respondents in more affluent neighborhoods reported drinking twice as frequently as respondents in low-income areas. People in high-income sites with relatively few outlets reported the most frequent drinking and the greatest amount of alcohol consumed over the 28 days. People in low-income sites with more liquor stores reported the least frequent drinking.

Social context was of varying relevance. People with higher incomes reported more frequent drinking even when they lived in lower-income areas. But people with lower incomes who lived in affluent neighborhoods drank far more alcohol than people with similar incomes in more impoverished neighborhoods. More frequent drinking was also associated with being white, being male, being married or cohabiting, and having a college degree. Heavy drinking was more commonly found among gender minorities, and in neighborhoods with more physical decay. The researchers advised caution in interpreting previous study findings on neighborhood influences and in generalizing the new findings to other regions or populations.

Microecological relationships between area income, off-premise alcohol outlet density, drinking patterns and alcohol use disorders: The East Bay Neighborhoods Study. C. Mair, N. Sumetsky, P. Gruenewald, J. Lee (pages xxx).


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