Drinking Patterns and Drinking-Related Benefits, Harm and Victimization Experiences: Reports from Community-Based General Population Surveys

By Giesbrecht, Norman; West, Paulette | Contemporary Drug Problems, Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

Drinking Patterns and Drinking-Related Benefits, Harm and Victimization Experiences: Reports from Community-Based General Population Surveys


Giesbrecht, Norman, West, Paulette, Contemporary Drug Problems


This paper focuses on relationships between various measures of drinking and self-reported adverse and positive experiences related to drinking. It uses data collected in three Ontario communities in 1994 from a combined representative sample of 3,000 adults age 18 and over. The relationships between drinking patterns and consequences are examined by using the drinkers' own causal attributions. We use different independent variables to calculate consumption, and we explore relationships between these drinking patterns and self-reported positive or negative consequences of drinking-including minor to more serious adverse or "victimization" experiences related to others' drinking. We also provide commentary on the relative merits of using different drinking measures to understand drinking-related experiences. Multiple regression models are developed for three different predictions: perceived benefits of the respondent's own drinking; harm due to one's own drinking; and "victimization" experiences resulting from drinking by others.

KEY WORDS: Drinking, problems, benefits, victimization, survey, Ontario.

It is widely recognized that the risks of harm from drinking go beyond physical health and casualties (Edwards, Anderson, Babor et al., 1994; Kemm, 1993; Room, Bondy & Ferris, 1995). Makela and Mustonen (1988) note that "behavioral concomitants and social experiences related to drinking" are expected to "vary according to the nature of the dependent variable and from one culture or population group to another" (p. 403).

The risks of harm occur at fairly low levels of drinking, and rates of harm vary by amount and pattern of drinking. Furthermore, the perceived benefits of drinking are expected to increase sharply at lower levels of drinking, although a leveling off or even a decline might be expected in the perceived benefits with higher drinking volumes (Makela and Mustonen, 1988, 1996; Bondy, 1995). Less attention has been given to self-reported problems, especially social problems, experienced as a result of other people's drinking. However, Room et al. (1995), as well as others, have examined the association between the subject's drinking patterns and the likelihood of being assaulted by another drinker. Yet the relationship between experiencing problems due to others' drinking and personal consumption patterns has typically not been part of this literature.

This paper examines the relationships among demographic variables, typical volume of alcohol consumed, higher volume drinking occasions, perceived benefits of drinking, personal harm due to one own's drinking, and problems arising from others' drinking. Recent literature on benefits, harm and related problems has led researchers to suggest a number of possible relationships. Considering first of all perceived benefits and harm, Makela and Mustonen's (1988) analysis of 2,866 drinkers from a 1984 Finnish national survey showed that perceived benefits, or positive experiences, increase faster in the lower end of the drinking continuum than do negative institutional reactions to drinking. For some problem categories, such as being arrested by the police, the risk increase is minor at the lower consumption categories but "quite steep in the highest end of the consumption continuum" (p. 407); and, on balance, considering both positive and negative consequences related to one's own drinking, the picture is more favorable at the lower levels of consumption. Room, Bondy and Ferris's (1995) analysis of 7,702 Canadian drinkers interviewed in 1989 found that each type of alcoholrelated personal harm was reported more frequently as consumption increased, except for harm to physical health. These authors also reported that rates of self-reported harm tend to level off when the number of occasions when five or more drinks were consumed was 10 or more in the past year. Holding drinks volume of the respondent constant, persons who at least occasionally drank five or more drinks were much more likely to have been assaulted by another drinker. …

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