Higher number of alcohol outlets may lead to more violence, suggests study

A study published by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health (PDPH) in January 2017 has found that the neighborhoods where alcohol is readily available are highly susceptible to violence. The study design was triggered when Governor Tom Wolf signed a new legislation in Pennsylvania, facilitating the sale of beer and wine in grocery stores across the state, allowing liquor stores to remain open on Sundays.

As per law, an alcohol outlet is a place where alcohol is readily available for consumption on-premises (bars and restaurants) or off-premises (beer distributors and liquor stores). Multiple factors were considered while conducting this study, such as race and socioeconomic status. The major findings of the study are listed below.

  • In neighborhoods with high levels of poverty, the alcohol density was quite high at 3.5 outlets per square mile. In 2015, 400 violent incidents per 10,000 residents were reported in these neighborhoods. In contrast, only 130 violent incidents per 10,000 residents were reported in the wealthier neighborhoods where there were only two alcohol outlets per square mile.
  • Even though a strong correlation could be found between poverty and violence, the researchers reported that irrespective of the poverty level, violence rates were higher in areas where the alcohol availability density was very high.
  • Wealthy neighborhoods with low alcohol density, and where people living under the poverty line were less than 7 percent, 111 violent incidents per 10,000 residents were reported. However, when the alcohol density in this neighborhood increased to more than six outlets per square mile, the number of violent incidents reported increased to 168.
  • The researchers also analyzed the effect of distance between alcohol outlets and schools. The median distance was reported to be more than 1,500 feet. However, this distance decreased to 1,100 feet in areas with abject poverty.
  • In bigger cities like New Orleans, Baltimore, and Los Angeles, there are 10 outlets per square However, Philadelphia has a comparatively low density of alcohol outlets at just 2.2 outlets per square mile.
  • In another study, led by researcher Loni Philip Tabb, assistant professor at Dornsife School of Public Health, the effects of changed liquor laws on Seattle were studied. The new laws approved privatization of liquor licenses allowing more alcohol stores to open. A 5 percent increase was reported in both aggravated and non-aggravated assaults in neighborhoods once the laws took effect.

Both these studies strengthen the association between violence and areas where availability of alcohol is high, and these effects are profound in areas with social hindrances. “This study should make us concerned about the effects of widening the availability of alcohol on violence in Philadelphia neighborhoods,” said Thoman Farley, Philadelphia’s health commissioner.

Amy Auchincloss, one of the study researchers, stated that one solution would not work towards reducing excessive use of alcohol. According to the study results, a multidimensional approach with increased prices per liquor bottle, reduced hours of selling alcohol and reduced numbers of outlets per square mile is required to alleviate this social problem.

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