A neighborhood's liquor-store density had a significant impact on at-risk drinking among African Americans who consumed alcohol, particularly for women who drink, according to a new study.
"There has been limited research on this topic among specific minority groups or by sex," said Katherine P. Theall, associate professor in the department of community health sciences at Tulane University School of Public Health & Tropical Medicine. "Researchers have only recently begun to examine in greater detail the impact of the neighborhood and other distal factors on health outcomes."
The study, which will be published in the May 2011 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, investigated links between neighborhood liquor stores, on-premise outlets, convenience stores, and supermarket densities and at-risk drinking among African Americans.
"Investigations that examine neighborhood influences according to specific demographic characteristics such as differential impacts by gender or race," said Theall, "are still emerging as we think of ways to best intervene and prevent adverse health outcomes based on neighborhood changes or polices."
Researchers recruited 321 African Americans (229 women, 92 men), ages 21 to 65 years of age, during April 2002 through to May 2003 from three community-based healthcare clinics in New Orleans, Louisiana. Individuals with hazardous or harmful patterns of alcohol consumption were classified as engaging in at-risk drinking based on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test.
"Among African Americans in our sample who drank, those who lived in neighborhoods with a greater concentration of liquor stores were more likely to be classified as at-risk drinkers compared to those living in neighborhoods with fewer liquor stores per population," said Theall. "Furthermore, the influence of liquor store concentration on at-risk drinking was much greater for African American women."
Theall noted that liquor stores are the dominant alcohol establishment in many minority communities, as opposed to supermarkets. "Therefore they may play a larger role in risky drinking among those who already drink," she said. "Other studies have shown high concentrations of liquor stores, as well as physical shelf space devoted to alcohol, in minority and lower-income neighborhoods."
Theall hypothesized that stress was a factor in regard to gender differences.
"While we do not know the specific neighborhood characteristics of the at-risk drinkers, our guess is that many were dealing with cumulative ecologic, family/household, and individual stressors,” she said. “If drinking is a coping mechanism, then greater availability of alcohol may lead to riskier consumption patterns."
These findings suggest that clinicians should take into account not only individual and interpersonal influences on a patient's consumption patterns, but also ecologic factors that may lead to riskier drinking.
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