Researchers know that the number of alcohol outlets in a given geographic area, referred to as alcohol-outlet density (AOD), is associated with a number of adverse health and social consequences. A new study of the relationship between AOD and intimate partner violence (IPV) – both male-to-female partner violence (MFPV) and female-to-male partner violence (FMPV) – has found that MFPV is more likely in neighborhoods where more alcohol is sold through liquor stores, bars, restaurants and other drinking places.
"We had detailed data on IPV in couples," explained Christy McKinney, faculty associate at the University of Texas School of Public Health, Dallas Regional Campus as well as corresponding author for the study. "By linking this information to AOD, we were ideally situated to address an understudied question using individual and couple-level data. We thought that greater alcohol availability could increase drinking which, in turn, could increase IPV."
"Until now we did not know that community alcohol environments could be related to IPV," said Paul J. Gruenewald, senior research scientist at the Prevention Research Center. "With this study we get the first indication that, at least for men, greater availability of alcohol from bars and other on-premise drinking places may be linked to domestic violence. This is a troubling observation because drinking at bars, for example, has also been linked to greater rates of child abuse and other forms of violence in our communities."
McKinney and her colleagues used three sets of data: individual and couple-level socio-demographic and behavioral data from a 1995 national population-based sample of 1,597 couples were linked to the 1990 U.S. Census for zip-code level socio-demographic data, and the 1997 U.S. Department of Commerce economic census report for alcohol-outlet data. The researchers assessed the relationship between AOD and MFPV or FMPV, as well as the role of binge drinking or alcohol-related problems on that relationship.
"We found that as alcohol availability increases, the more likely it is that couples will experience MFPV," said McKinney. Specifically, an increase of 10 alcohol outlets per 10,000 persons was associated with a 34-percent increased risk of MFPV.
"This finding is particularly important to alcohol researchers because it begins to indicate that some important social mechanisms underlie the roles that alcohol outlets play in community problems," said Gruenewald. "Drinking is clearly a risk factor for IPV. But it also appears that the use of on-premise drinking places for drinking may be an added risk. Neighborhoods with many alcohol outlets seem likely to have more problems related to drinking, including several different forms of alcohol-related violence."
"We also found that the relationship between alcohol availability and MFPV was stronger for couples who had alcohol-related problems than for couples with no such problems," McKinney added. "However, because this study is cross-sectional and we asked about IPV and alcohol-related problems at the same time, we do not know which came first."
"We need to begin to identify the specific relationships of drinking in alcohol outlets to incidents of male and female partner violence," suggested Gruenewald. "We need to identify how these drinkers use outlets, determine how the use of outlets disinhibits constraints on partner violence, and assess the ways in which greater numbers of outlets increase these risks."
McKinney hopes that this study, the first study to measure the relationship between alcohol availability and IPV with both individual and couple-level data, will help guide policy makers in their decisions about alcohol availability in neighborhoods.
The study was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
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