Alcohol abuse takes its toll on public health and our communities in many ways, including through higher rates of violent crime.
A new University of Minnesota study has confirmed that neighborhoods with a higher density of alcohol establishments experience more violent crime. But the study also compared neighborhoods with on-premise alcohol sales – such as bars and restaurants – with neighborhoods containing off-site alcohol sales, such as liquor stores.
Traci Toomey, a professor of epidemiology at the University’s School of Public Health, led the study.
On-premise alcohol sales led to more violent crime than off-premise sales
“We found a stronger relationship between density of alcohol establishments and violent crime for on-premise – the bars and the restaurants – than we did for the off-premise establishments,” she said.
“But that’s not to say that there wasn’t a connection between the number of, or the density of, off-premise establishments and violent crime. It’s just that it was higher, it was more magnified, for the on-premise establishments.”
Findings should influence policy
Toomey said that policy makers should consider these findings and previous studies when making decisions about the number of alcohol licenses to be granted in a given community.
“The recommendation is that we need to control the density of alcohol establishments in a neighborhood and in a community,” she said. “We need to make sure that we’re not flooding these communities with alcohol establishments and inadvertently increasing the problems that that neighborhood is experiencing.”
Toomey added that while elected officials may be tempted to increase the number of alcohol establishments as a way to raise revenue during tough economic times, she said that they need to weigh those benefits against the strong potential for increases in violent crime.
“An increase in violent crime will increase community costs in terms of law enforcement, court costs, health care costs, and contribute to a poorer quality of life for neighborhood residents.”
On-premise vs. off-premise
Toomey said that on-premise establishments like bars and restaurants sell alcohol to be consumed on site, while off-premise establishments like liquor stores and convenience stores sell alcohol to be consumed at a different location. As a result, these types of establishments could pose different problems for neighborhoods.
On-premise establishments are more likely to attract larger crowds, and customers at these establishments may drink too much and get involved in problems like fights and vandalism, Toomey said. Meanwhile, “off-premise establishment customers typically do not hang out at the establishment and are more likely to get intoxicated and have problems at different locations, potentially outside of the neighborhoods where they purchased the alcohol.”
Online Alcohol Awareness Classes Reduce Individual Risks of Alcohol Consumption
Although the study addresses environmental risk factors for violent crimes, such as the density of bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, substance abuse prevention specialists point to individual strategies for reducing the consequences of over drinking by adults, and underage drinkers. One strategy, online alcohol awareness classes uses the web to deliver information about the risks and consequences of alcohol use. Typically mandated by courts for persons cited for underage drinking, theses classes have proven to reduce the frequency and negative consequences of drinking in underage emerging adults (ages 18 -25). Studies show that participants find the classes informative and effective. Currently, many colleges now require freshman to complete an online alcohol awareness class as part of their college orientation.
Combining Environmental and Individual Strategies Most Effective
It now appears that communities that limit the number of establishments in a community that serve alcohol and offer individual strategies for young drinkers, such as online alcohol awareness classes, have the best chance of reducing violent crimes in their communities.