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Alcohol Use Policies Should Be Adaptable Depending on Region, Wealth

Posted in Research

If you think alcohol abuse is largely relegated to impoverished zip codes then you will be surprised by Australian research, which recently found that over-consumption of alcohol was actually more prevalent in wealthier districts.

The study from Australia’s National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre looked at both binge drinking and average drinking habits across 20 regional locations in New South Wales. Binge drinking is defined as four or more consecutive drinks for a woman, and five or more drinks for a man. Since bars and pubs are more often located in urban areas it was assumed that drinking levels in those communities would be higher across the board.

But the data revealed that areas where bars and clubs were situated did have higher incidences of binge drinking. In fact, the more of these establishments per capita, the higher the binge drinking rates were found to be.

However, it was in wealthier communities that the highest rates of day to day alcohol consumption were found. Another interesting fact: communities with a greater police presence had lower figures for average alcohol consumption. More police patrolling the streets of inner city areas equated to lower average drinking rates.

University of New South Wales Professor Anthony Shakeshaft, who was head researcher on the project, expressed his own surprise at the findings. The amount of attention placed on binge drinking has left people with misperceptions regarding its dangers, he says. Binge drinking may increase the likelihood of violence, but over-drinking carries plenty of risk as well.

For example, people who are habitual heavy drinkers face increased risk for cancers, liver disease, mental disorders and accidental injury or death, especially from drunk driving. And when entire communities are over-drinking, incidences like these will also rise, making heavy drinking a community health concern.

The report suggests that different communities might need to adopt separate strategies. More police on the streets in poorer areas may play a role in keeping down the problem of habitual heavy drinking in the city, and downtown areas might be able to combat their binge drinking problem by enforcing currently mandated lock-out times. In wealthier and suburban locations reducing the number of alcohol purchasing outlets could help, as well as mandating earlier closing times.

These sorts of targeted strategies have been employed with measurable success in the United States. College campuses with strict alcohol use policies and aggressive enforcement end to see a decline in alcohol use by students. Oftentimes, the campuses endeavor to limit the availability of alcohol to students in local stores as well.

Drinking is not a problem among one class of people, and it isn’t an urban or suburban-only issue. How well the problem of binge versus heavy drinking in the urban and more rural areas translates to the U.S. is an interesting question. And all too often drinking is perceived here as an individual concern rather than as a public health issue. Studies like the one in Australia show that there are community profiles, and those translate into community health statistics.