How Your Neighborhood Affects Your Well-Being

  • On- and off-premise alcohol outlets include bars, restaurants, liquor stores, and grocery stores
  • Researchers have found an association between both on- and off-premise alcohol outlet densities and self-reported injuries
  • These injuries include sprains, strains, fractures, dislocations, cuts, scrapes, and bruises
  • Alcohol availability appears related to self-reported injury even if the specific mechanisms of this relationship remain unclear

A person’s house may be their castle, but the neighborhood in which they live likely has more of an impact on their life than they realize. A study in the October issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research looks at what links may exist between neighborhood alcohol-outlet density and alcohol-related injury.

"The number of alcohol outlets within two kilometers of individuals’ residences," said Andrew J. Treno, research scientist at the Prevention Research Center, and lead author of the study, "increased the probability of survey respondents self-reporting injuries such as sprains, strains, fractures, dislocations, cuts, scrapes and bruises." In other words, the number of both on- and off-premise alcohol outlets in a neighborhood may constitute a "risk factor" for certain injuries. On-premise outlets include bars and restaurants and off-premise outlets include liquor and grocery stores.

"This is an important study because it is the first to show that alcohol-outlet density has an impact on individual-level outcomes associated with drinking," said Richard Scribner, professor of preventive medicine at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center. "Previous studies in this field have been ecologic (group level associations) in nature, but this research takes it a step further by looking at personal alcohol-related injuries. Being able to make inferences down to the individual level is necessary in order for people to relate to the findings." Scribner has himself researched the impact of alcohol availability on "neighborhood culture." He found that a neighborhood’s alcohol-outlet density has a discernible impact on residents’ drinking attitudes and alcohol consumption.

Treno’s research is part of the larger Community Trials Project, a five-year survey of six communities in California and South Carolina. The project tested the ability of five different approaches to reduce alcohol-related harm among residents: media and community mobilization, responsible beverage service at bars and restaurants, reduction of underage access to alcohol, an increase in local driving while intoxicated (DWI) enforcement activity, and controlling for alcohol-outlet density. All approaches reduced problematic alcohol use. The data analyzed for this paper were collected between April 1992 and December 1996 in four California communities. Nearly 14,000 residents were asked about injuries they might have experienced in the previous six months.

"These findings certainly speak to the whole ‘nature versus nurture’ debate," said Scribner. "We’re bombarded by this notion that all behavior is determined by genetic or psychological factors. Yet the environment is also an important component in the development of health problems associated with unhealthy behavior, and there are several important environments to consider. There are your family and home, school, work place, neighborhood, and overall cultural environments. School and workplace environments aren’t particularly at risk because they’re generally ‘alcohol neutral’ in nature. But neighborhood environments, for example, can have major differences in levels of alcohol promotion and alcohol availability through outlet density. Research indicates these differences have an impact. It is likely that our neighborhood environment does influence our behavior by shaping our drinking patterns. We don’t know exactly how yet, but there seems to be this dynamic influence between individuals and their environment, which fits into the theory of alcoholism as part genetic, part environmental."

"Our individual-level results clearly support other research linking outlet densities to problem outcomes such as traffic crashes and assaultive violence," added Treno. "Collectively, the research suggests that programs, interventions and public policies designed to reduce alcohol-related problems should consider the role of neighborhood alcohol outlets."

Funding for this Addiction Science Made Easy project is provided by the Addiction Technology Transfer Center National Office, under the cooperative agreement from the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment of SAMHSA.

Articles were written based on the following published research:

Treno, A.J., Gruenewald, P.J., & Johnson, F.W. (2001, October). Alcohol availability and injury: The role of local outlet densities. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 25(10), 1467-1471.