A study led by University of Washington (UW) indicates that neighborhoods with greater poverty and disorganization may play a greater role in problem drinking than the availability of bars and stores that sell hard liquor.
The findings, based on local neighborhood data and published online in the Journal of Urban Health, suggest that while socioeconomics are more powerful environmental factors than even access to the substance itself, improving a neighborhood's quality of life can yield a range of benefits.
In examining the combination of multiple neighborhood factors on alcohol use, UW researchers turned to an ongoing study the university's Social Development Research Group has followed for decades, by interviewing more than 500 of the adult participants, who were first identified as fifth-graders in Seattle elementary schools and now live throughout King County.
In this neighborhood study, 48 percent of participants were women; and people of color made up nearly 60 percent of respondents.
The researchers determined the U.S. Census Block Group, namely a geographic area of roughly 1,000 people, of each participant's residence, along with demographic data tied to that area and the number of locations that sold hard alcohol there. Participants also answered a series of questions about their alcohol consumption and perceptions of their neighborhood. The information allowed the researchers to classify neighborhoods according to poverty level, alcohol availability and "disorganization," which included factors such as crime, drug selling and graffiti.
The researchers found that residents of neighborhoods primarily characterized by high poverty and disorganization tended to drink twice as much in a typical week as those in other types of neighborhoods. Binge-drinking, generally defined as more than four drinks at a time for women, five for men, occurred in these high-poverty, highly disorganized communities about four times as frequently as in other types of neighborhoods.
These findings are consistent with previous research indicating that people in lower income neighborhoods may be at greater risk for alcohol-related problems, said Isaac Rhew, a research assistant professor in the UW Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences.
What's different, agreed Rhew and study co-author Rick Kosterman, a research scientist in the UW School of Social Work, is the fact that neighborhoods characterized by greater alcohol availability showed no increased alcohol use among residents, suggesting that socioeconomic factors may pose a greater risk for substance abuse.
"On its face, the connection between poverty and disorganization and alcohol use may not be all that surprising, but when you find that this connection may be even more important than the location of bars and liquor stores, then it's those characteristics of a neighborhood that we want to pay attention to," Kosterman was quoted as saying in a news release.