PRC Resources

Alcohol Outlet Control

Neighborhoods, Alcohol Outlets and Intimate Partner Violence
Principal Investigator: Carol Cunradi

The overall goal of this study is to gain a deeper understanding of how environmental factors, such as alcohol outlet density and neighborhood conditions such as poverty, interact with individual- and couple-level characteristics to increase risk for intimate partner violence.

Intimate partner violence, that is, acts of aggression between adult married or cohabiting couples is a significant public health problem.  These acts of aggression include psychological aggression as well as physical aggression, including sexual coercion.  National surveys indicate that partner-to-partner violence occurs in from 8% to 22% of couples.  It is most likely to occur among younger couples, members of racial and ethnic minorities and households with low socioeconomic status.   Violence between parents is likely to have negative consequences for children who witness such aggression.

Alcohol is related to intimate partner violence directly in that heavy drinking increases the risk of aggression between partners.  Studies also indicate that the immediate effects of alcohol consumption lead to violent behavior between partners.  Drinking alone is not enough to cause violence, but can make it more likely for some couples.

Most research on all kinds of family violence, including intimate partner violence, focuses on the behavior of individuals.  It is typically a 'private' event that takes place behind closed doors. An increasing body of research indicates that the characteristics of the neighborhoods in which families live can have an effect on family violence.  For example, couples who live in impoverished neighborhoods are more likely to engage in violent behavior towards each other.  It is also beginning to emerge that more alcohol outlets close together can contribute to family violence, including violence between couples. 

More alcohol outlets can contribute to more drinking, which itself is a risk factor for violence.  In addition, neighborhoods with many liquor stores, bottles littering the street, intoxicated people in public, etc. may also lead residents of such neighborhoods to be less concerned about social consequences of engaging in violence, and neighbors to be less likely to intervene if they witness violence.  Living in a neighborhood characterized by abandoned buildings, graffiti, crime, and other signs of decay, together with liquor stores that may be a magnet for social problems, may also be stressful, which may lead to heavier drinking and/or more aggressive behavior. 

This study uses telephone surveys to obtain information from couples, and data about neighborhoods to explore the relationship between neighborhood characteristics - especially with regard to alcohol availability - and violence between partners.  In particular we explore the following hypotheses:

  • Couples residing in the most socially disadvantaged neighborhoods that also have the greatest density of bars and off-premise alcohol outlets will have the highest rates of self-reported violence between partners and heavy drinking.
  • Couples residing in the most socially  disadvantaged neighborhoods will report  the lowest levels of collective efficacy (a group's confident expectation that it will successfully achieve its intended goals) and alcohol outlet density will exacerbate this relationship. These couples will also perceive that intervening in family problems will not be accepted behavior among neighbors.  These couples will have higher rates of violence between partners, especially when there is a high density of alcohol outlets. 
  • In neighborhoods with high levels of social  disadvantage (including high alcohol outlet density, off-premise venues and bars), there will be higher levels of psychological distress among couples. Given a certain level of psychological distress, heavy drinking will result in higher rates of violence between partners compared to lower levels of drinking.
  • Couples in neighborhoods with greater outlet density will use these alcohol outlets more frequently.  This use of alcohol outlets will be associated with more violence between partners.

Key Findings:
Neighborhoods that have a higher density of bars had more emergency room visits related to intimate partner violence. The density of off-premise outlets, such as liquor stores and other stores that sell alcohol, was negatively associated with this type of emergency department visit. There was no association between density of restaurants that serve alcohol and emergency department visits related to intimate partner violence.

The study findings can be used to help change neighborhood conditions in ways that can create and sustain safer environments for families, such as changes in zoning, community action and education, and policing.