The nearer the bar, the greater the chances of risky drinking

NEW YORK Fri Nov 2, 2012 12:11pm EDT

Bottles of alcohol are seen at The Lord Cardigan pub in east London January 26, 2012. The pub is within a mile of the Olympic Park where the 2012 Olympic Games will take place. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh

Bottles of alcohol are seen at The Lord Cardigan pub in east London January 26, 2012. The pub is within a mile of the Olympic Park where the 2012 Olympic Games will take place.

Credit: Reuters/Eddie Keogh

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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Does living near a bar encourage people to overindulge, or do heavy drinkers move to neighborhoods with easy access to alcohol? A new study suggests it may be the former for some people.

Researchers in Finland found that of nearly 55,000 Finnish adults followed for seven years, those who moved closer to bars were somewhat more likely to increase their drinking.

When a person moved one kilometer (0.6 mile) closer to a bar, the odds of becoming a heavy drinker rose 17 percent. A "heavy drinker" meant more than 10 ounces a week for men and about seven ounces a week for women, of distilled alcohol.

The link doesn't prove that mere distance from a bar turns people into alcohol abusers, according to the researchers.

"Factors other than proximity are also likely to explain the observed association," lead researcher Jaana L. Halonen, of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Kuopio, said in an email.

One possibility, she noted, is that drinkers choose to live near bars. But she and her colleagues also looked at a subset of people who didn't move - the bars came closer to them. And the findings were similar among those individuals, too, Halonen said.

The researchers also accounted for some other factors, like the neighborhood poverty level. (In Finland, Halonen said, lower-income people are more likely to drink heavily than wealthier people are.) And distance from a bar remained tied to the odds of becoming a heavy drinker.

The findings, reported in the journal Addiction, are based on surveys of 54,778 Finnish public employees who were followed over an average of seven years.

At the outset, there was a pattern of heavy drinking being more common when people lived close to bars, or restaurants or hotels with bars.

Among people who were an average of 0.12 kilometers (400 feet) from the nearest drinking hole, a little over nine percent were heavy drinkers. Of those 2.4 kilometers (about 1.5 miles) away, some 7.5 percent were heavy drinkers.

When the researchers looked at patterns over time, it turned out that people who moved closer to bars - or had bars move closer to them - tended to have higher odds of becoming a heavy drinker.

The increased risk was modest. But at the population level, Halonen noted, even a modest association between access to bars and heavy drinking becomes "notable."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines a standard drink as a 1.5 ounce "shot" of 80-proof alcohol, five ounces of wine or eight ounces of beer - and considers heavy drinking to be an average of more than two drinks a day for men and one a day for women.

For any one person, of course, the risk of becoming a problem drinker depends on a whole range of factors, Halonen pointed out.

But, she added, it's possible that restricting bars' hours, or other alcohol retailers' operating hours, could limit locals' risky drinking.

Since the study was done in Finland, one question is how well the findings would apply to other countries. That's unclear, Halonen said, because drinking habits and "cultural norms" vary by country.

"For instance," she noted, "in the UK and Australia, heavy drinking is reported to be more common than in Finland, whereas in the USA it is less common."

"On the other hand," Halonen added, "it is unlikely that easy access to a bar would affect drinking only among Finnish employees."

SOURCE: Addiction, online October 18, 2012.

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Comments (5)
InTheGutter wrote:

I was just curious about this alcohol study. I find it interesting, and I am wondering if the members conducting this study bothered to speak to members of alcoholics anonymous about the matter. AA is. notorious for placing meeting halls within feet of bars. People there stay sober for lifetimes. In phoenix, I can think of only one meeting that isn’t near a bar (there are over two thousand meetings here per day). I am also wondering if they did a study on why alcoholism has grown in the last decade. My bet is simply that alcoholics drink because they like to drink. They live near bars because they like to drink, and can’t stop. They want to drink more, and won’t care about money being wasted on research studies. Add in the economy, and its an even better reason to drink (just ask Bill W) I’d bet a paycheck on it. I am curious why this study was done at all. Are the researchers trying to warn people, or just tell them what they all ready know and feel? Yes, obviously, alcoholics live near bars because they like to drink. I’m confused as to the purpose of the whole thing. Alcoholism is listed as a disease in the DSM, and alcoholics anonymous teaches it as an allergic, and obsessive reaction. With all of the medical research pointing toward this, I am wondering why on earth we bother with these studies at all? I know its your job to report, and you don’t have those answers, but it might be worth writing about.

Nov 04, 2012 5:53am EST  --  Report as abuse
JimONeill wrote:
I’m retired and three years ago this month, I decided to learn how to play pool. I joined an 8 ball league and since then, I’ve played pool twice a week at two different bars.

My Monday night league has about 20 people who play. We are in a side room of the bar and alcohol is available but almost all of us drink tea or soft drinks.

On Wednesday nights, I play at another bar and the pool tables are also in a separate room. In that room we also have about 20 people but there, I am about the only person who only has a soft drink instead of alcohol.

I’m not sure this proves anything but it does show that proximity to alcohol is not the only deciding factor on who drinks in a bar. By the way, I have red wine every day at home. I am not an abstainer I just do not drink and drive.

Nov 04, 2012 7:17am EST  --  Report as abuse
joerunner35 wrote:
Nothing mentioned about the need for human contact on the part of those in the survey. A neighborhood bar is the easiest way to have some conversation along with a drink

Nov 04, 2012 8:28am EST  --  Report as abuse
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