Academic journal article Alcohol Research

Evaluating the Alcohol Environment: Community Geography and Alcohol Problems

Academic journal article Alcohol Research

Evaluating the Alcohol Environment: Community Geography and Alcohol Problems

Article excerpt

In recent years, a growing number of studies in the United States have addressed the relationships among the environments in which people live, the alcoholic beverages they consume, and the problems they experience in different community settings. Such research arises from a view of community settings and alcohol problems that takes into account both individual drinking behaviors and the environmental contexts in which these behaviors occur. According to this approach, drinking in different settings (e.g., drinking at restaurants) exposes drinkers to different risks (e.g., driving after drinking), and these risks become greater with the continued use of alcohol (e.g., heavy drinking leading to driving while intoxicated). The availability of alcohol at different places where people may drink affects drinking practices and shapes the incidence, prevalence, and geographic distribution of alcohol-related problems in the community (Stockwell and Gruenewald 2001). The different places where drinkers may use alcoh ol also change in response to the demand for alcohol and in response to changes in community systems that meet this demand (i.e., changes in alcohol availability policy) (Holder 1998). Regulations and policies related to the availability and use of alcohol provide an opportunity for policymakers to affect the geographic distribution of alcohol problems and create safer communities (Gruenewald et al. in press).

Policymakers have had the opportunity to regulate the distribution of alcohol for the benefit of public health for many decades (Edwards et al. 1994). Research to evaluate the effectiveness of these efforts, however, has been limited by inadequate models of the individual-environmental interactions that support alcohol use and by imprecise views of how these interactions are related to the geographic distribution of alcohol use and related problems. Knowledge of where alcohol problems occur and why they occur in the places that they do is essential to local policymakers. Such knowledge can inform decisions as to what to regulate (e.g., alcohol beverage serving practices vs. restrictions on places that can serve alcohol) and where such regulation is most called for (e.g., bars or restaurants in downtown or outlying areas). This knowledge is also useful for researchers to consider when planning and evaluating community prevention programs. In recent years, studies of the geographic relationships between places where alcohol is sold and local alcohol-related problems have begun to flourish. These advances have been coupled with the development of computerized systems for storing and mapping data known as geographic information systems (GIS) and geostatistical methods (Wilson and Dufour 2000). Although still at its earliest stages, geographical analysis has begun to reveal very useful spatial associations between features of the alcohol environment and problems related to alcohol, particularly motor vehicle crashes, pedestrian injuries, and violence.

Most current ecological studies of the interactions of individual drinking practices with the drinking environment are rooted in the simple observation that alcohol problems occur in environmental settings, and environmental settings may be changed through community action. The question these studies attempt to answer, then, is this: What specific changes in the alcohol environment should be recommended to communities? Some preliminary answers to this question are available, and several of them are discussed in this issue of Alcohol Research & Health. A more complete answer to this question, however, will require considerably more work. The full effects of environmental changes in community settings are not well understood. Current research provides researchers and policymakers with early demonstrations of relationships between environmental settings and drinking practices. This work has not, however, clarified the specific components of these ecological relationships that are most productive of alcohol-relat ed problems. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.