The nearer the bar, the greater the chances of risky drinking

Fri Nov 2, 2012 12:11pm EDT
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By Amy Norton

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Does living near a bar encourage people to overindulge, or do heavy drinkers move to neighborhoods with easy access to alcohol? A new study suggests it may be the former for some people.

Researchers in Finland found that of nearly 55,000 Finnish adults followed for seven years, those who moved closer to bars were somewhat more likely to increase their drinking.

When a person moved one kilometer (0.6 mile) closer to a bar, the odds of becoming a heavy drinker rose 17 percent. A "heavy drinker" meant more than 10 ounces a week for men and about seven ounces a week for women, of distilled alcohol.

The link doesn't prove that mere distance from a bar turns people into alcohol abusers, according to the researchers.

"Factors other than proximity are also likely to explain the observed association," lead researcher Jaana L. Halonen, of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Kuopio, said in an email.

One possibility, she noted, is that drinkers choose to live near bars. But she and her colleagues also looked at a subset of people who didn't move - the bars came closer to them. And the findings were similar among those individuals, too, Halonen said.

The researchers also accounted for some other factors, like the neighborhood poverty level. (In Finland, Halonen said, lower-income people are more likely to drink heavily than wealthier people are.) And distance from a bar remained tied to the odds of becoming a heavy drinker.

The findings, reported in the journal Addiction, are based on surveys of 54,778 Finnish public employees who were followed over an average of seven years.   Continued...

Bottles of alcohol are seen at The Lord Cardigan pub in east London January 26, 2012. The pub is within a mile of the Olympic Park where the 2012 Olympic Games will take place. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh