PRC Resources

Alcohol Trauma

Preventing Alcohol Trauma: A Community Trial
Story of Discovery


In 2002, Child Protective Service agencies throughout the United States received more than 1.8 million referrals of abuse or neglect involving more than 3 million children. Substance abuse by parents can place children at greater risk of maltreatment. These children are more likely to be removed from their homes when child maltreatment occurs in comparison to children whose parents do not abuse alcohol and/or drugs. Substance abusing parents involved with the child welfare system are primarily referred for individual or family services. Yet these services occur after a child has been abused or neglected. Current prevention efforts are directed towards at-risk parents or families. Environmental interventions that focus upon changing neighborhood or community environments, including those related to alcohol and drug availability, may provide an alternative method of preventing or reducing child abuse and neglect. Previous studies have found a positive relationship between child maltreatment and density of alcohol outlets and a negative relationship between excise tax on beer at the state level and violence and severe violence on children


The Current Study

This study examines how the density of bars, restaurants that serve alcohol, off-premise alcohol outlets, drug possession, and drug sale incidents are related to child maltreatment, when controlling for other neighborhood demographic characteristics, such as poverty, ratio of children to adults, and vacant housing. Data were collected from reports of child abuse and neglect from all neighborhoods in a northern California city.



Higher concentration of bars and higher numbers of incidents of drug possession were positively related to rates of child maltreatment. Higher percentages of people living in poverty, Hispanic residents, vacant housing, and persons who moved in the last 5 years were also significantly associated with neighborhood rates of child abuse and neglect. The effects of bars and drug incidents persist even when controlling for these other neighborhood characteristics. Off premises alcohol outlets, such as liquor stores did not have an effect on child maltreatment.

The presence of more bars per population may increase the stress on neighborhoods by attracting populations who are prone to participating in dangerous activities or increase the frequency of alcohol use by parents that then leads to maltreatment. Frequent incidents of drug possession may contribute to the overall level of neighborhood stress and disorganization. More drug possession incidents may also signify more drug use in the neighborhood placing children at greater risk for maltreatment. These results suggest that the availability of alcohol and illegal drugs in neighborhoods deserve special attention when developing preventive interventions to reduce child abuse and neglect. Controlling the number of bars or reducing the presence of drugs in the neighborhood may improve the safety of children.


The Take-Home Message

Changing the neighborhood environment to reduce the number of bars and the presence of illegal drugs may help to reduce child abuse and neglect.


The Reference

Is the physical availability of alcohol and illicit drugs related to neighborhood rates of child maltreatment?
Child Abuse & Neglect 29 (2005) 1049-1060