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More Off-Premise Alcohol Outlets Associated with More Traumatic Injuries

Areas within a city that have more retail outlets for off-premise alcohol sales have more intentional and unintentional injuries, a recent study finds. The effect is particularly strong when there are larger and chain outlets selling cheaper alcohol. The study was carried out in Melbourne, Australia by the Prevention Research Center (part of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation) in Oakland California and by Monash University in Melbourne.

Past research has found that where there is a higher density of alcohol outlets there are more alcohol related problems, including greater incidence of assaults, intimate partner violence, youth violence, child abuse, and all-cause hospital admissions. The current study was designed to look specifically at off-premise outlets (such as liquor stores and grocery stores that sell alcohol) rather than on-premise outlets, such as bars and restaurants.

The researchers randomly selected 62 census units in Melbourne (out of a total of 256 units). The selected areas of the city contained 295 off-premise outlets. Observers assessed each outlet to determine the volume of alcohol available, prices for the alcohol, operating characteristics (such as chain vs. independent stores, whether there were drive-through sales). Characteristics of each selected part of the city were also measured (population density, median age, median income, retail zoning). The researchers defined intentional injuries as any assaults, stabbings or shootings attended by the state ambulance service, and unintentional injuries as any falls, crush injuries or object strikes.

The results indicate that both intentional and unintentional injuries were more common in areas with greater concentrations of off-premise outlets. Chain outlets appeared to contribute most substantially to injury risk. Chain outlets were larger and appeared to sell alcohol at cheaper prices than independent outlets. Each additional chain outlet in the neighborhood was associated with a 35% increase in the number of intentional injuries in the local area and a 20% increase in the number of intentional injuries.

These results support the theory that when it is more convenient to obtain alcohol and the financial costs are lower, more alcohol related problems will occur, including both intentional and unintentional injuries. That is, by having more outlets close together in a neighborhood, particularly if the outlets sell alcohol cheaply, residents may be more likely to drink more and consequently more likely to be injured or to injure others.

Source: Relating Off-Premise Alcohol Outlet Density to Intentional and Unintentional Injuries, Christopher Morrison, Karen Smith, Paul J. Gruenewald, William R. Ponicki, Juliet P. Lee, Peter Cameron, Addiction, 08/2015; DOI:10.1111/add.13098