Neighborhoods with places to buy booze are more violent and have higher levels of poverty. So say the results of a Philadelphia study commissioned to assess the effects of alcohol availability, ahead of new laws which will expand liquor licenses, allowing wine to be available in grocery stores, for instance.
The study was carried out by Drexel University’s Urban Health Collaborative, and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. It found that increasing the number of venues that sell alcohol in a neighborhood also increases the amount of violence, traffic crashes, “and other public health and social problems.” And while there are more liquor outlets in poorer neighborhoods, the problems apply even to affluent areas.
Philadelphia is implementing new laws which expand the availability of alcohol. In addition to wine being available for sale in grocery stores, beer will also be sold in more places, including gas stations. The data gathered applies not just to stores that sell alcohol, but also bars and restaurants that are licensed for off-premise sales. The purpose of the study is to anticipate the effects of plans to expand the number of liquor outlets this summer, by mapping the incidences of antisocial behavior onto the frequency of existing alcohol stores.
What they found is that violence goes up when there are more places to buy booze. When Washington state relaxed its own alcohol sale regulations, says the report, assaults went up by 5-8% for each new outlet in a neighborhood.
Philadelphia’s outlet density is low compared to other cities, with an average of 2.2 outlets per square mile. City-wide, poorer neighborhoods, and neighborhoods with more black and Hispanic residents, have more places to buy booze. This leads to more violent incidents. But more liquor equals more violence in every neighborhood, regardless of economic or demographic factors:
In advantaged neighborhoods (less than 7 percent of their population living below the federal poverty line) violent incidents per 10,000 population averaged 111 in areas with the fewest alcohol outlets, but that number increased to 168 in spots with at least six outlets per square mile (51 percent higher).
The conclusion is that poorer neighborhoods are already under all kinds of pressure, and adding more places to buy liquor can make things worse. The report recommends several measures to help mitigate the problem, including education, making health care professionals screen patients for alcohol use, and–yes–reducing the number of outlets that sell alcohol.
In reality, some mix of methods might be needed to do the trick–state-controlled liquor stores with absurdly short opening hours don’t curtail heavy drinking in Sweden, for example. But one thing seems fairly clear: that Philadelphia’s plan to relax its licensing laws and increase the availability of booze, is likely to lead to a lot of trouble.