Historical Overview


For more than three decades, PRC has focused on preventing alcohol and other drug problems through understanding the social, cultural, and legal environments in which people live. The specific focus of the Center has evolved during that time.

1983-1987: The new Environmental Approaches to Prevention Research Center grant brought together researchers with common interests in basic and applied studies related to the prevention of alcohol problems, the development of environmental prevention programs, and the formulation of effective prevention policy. During these early years PRC established an integrated and collaborative team of prevention researchers, established linkages with prevention practitioners and policymakers, and began training and developing new pre- and post-doctoral researchers.

1988-1992: Following its first renewal, PRC began exploring drinking environments in greater depth. The research program included the investigation of drinking in bars and restaurants; the effects of alcohol policies in the workplace; the influences of television portrayals on adolescent drinking; the impact of state regulations on alcohol sales, availability and problems; and the development and testing of community systems models. Related studies investigated drinking in Mexican American families, drinking among Irish and American youth, and the effects of changes in distilled spirits availability on impaired driving and alcohol-related crashes.

1993-1997: Center Grant research included studies of drinking in the workplace; the influence of television advertising, peers, and family on drinking among adolescents; drinking and violent crime; geospatial analyses of availability, prices, sales as they relate to alcohol problems; and field tests of community systems models for preventive interventions. Concurrent research included studies of violence and drinking in Mexican American neighborhoods; the effects of mandatory server training in bars; a study of workplace alcohol policies in an auto manufacturing plant; the influence of the minimum purchase age on adolescent and young adult violence; an evaluation of state zero tolerance laws to remove driver's licenses from underage youth who drink; and an examination of the impacts of local prohibition of alcohol sales on violence.

Additionally, PRC began to apply results from its basic research to the prevention of alcohol problems. PRC researchers implemented a major community-based prevention trial to reduce alcohol-involved injuries and deaths in three experiments relative to three matched comparison communities. The Community Trials project initiated prevention efforts to enhance responsible beverage service, reduce drinking and driving and underage drinking, and moderate alcohol availability in the experimental sites. 

1998-2002: Center research included studies of drinking patterns and problems among college students; the impact of drinking on academic performance; mathematical models of alcohol consumption and problems; and college drinking environments affected by policy change. Other research examined predictors of drinking and driving among youth and young adults, including effects of anticipated consequences and outlet density.

Additionally, research focused upon spatial geographic models of alcohol problems, the development of ecological models relating alcohol outlets to violence and traffic injuries, and multi-level analyses of the impacts of outlet densities on self-reported drinking and driving. PRC researchers also examined the role of normative feedback in college students' alcohol use; the effectiveness of alcohol and tobacco counter-advertising; the cultural roots of American Indian drinking practices; the efficacy of alcohol prevention programs in minority neighborhoods; worksite stress and drinking behaviors among urban transit operators; the role of excessive alcohol use in intimate partner violence; policy studies of the impacts of regulating beverage price and physical availability; and alcoholism treatment cost offset effects. The Community Trials final evaluation demonstrated the efficacy of environmental prevention programs for the reduction of alcohol problems in community settings. A new area of research focused on the effects of media on adolescents' sexual beliefs and behaviors. 

2003-2007: Recognizing that environmental prevention works at the community level, our research began to focus upon social mechanisms in community systems that enhance or mitigate prevention effects. This research showed that the impacts of constraints on availability moderated one another and individual patterns of access and use varied by ecological and enforcement contexts. These observations led to research efforts that identified specific social mechanisms that linked availability to problems. 

Other research at the Center focused on violence among couples and child abuse and neglect as they relate to alcohol outlets and other neighborhood conditions; the impact of regulatory policies on youth drinking; adolescent sexuality and media. Methodological approaches were expanded to include a consideration of ecological data in community settings (Bayesian space-time models and micro-ecological data from specific drinking locations) and portal survey methods for collecting self-report and biological markers of alcohol and drug use. PRC's prevention portfolio was expanded through a series of intervention studies to reduce access to alcohol and thus alcohol-related problems among college students and underage youths. One study assessed the extent of alcohol-related problems in underage populations of Southwest California Indians and established the groundwork for selecting, implementing, and evaluating appropriate prevention and treatment interventions to reduce drinking among its youth. These approaches were generalized to other analyses of substances of abuse (tobacco inhalants, and other harmful legal products). International studies focused on youth alcohol use and risky sexual behavior in Bangkok and on the effects of alcohol outlet closing hours on violence in Brazil. An emerging program of research focused on availability of family planning clinics and adolescents' sexual behavior. 

2008-2012: Research components of the Center Grant built upon our commitment to develop our understanding of the social mechanisms that underlie alcohol-related problems using social ecological approaches. In this framework, drinking environments are shaped by long-term economic and social processes that encourage or constrain drinking and problems. The goal of this approach is to identify the specific agents, risk environments, and interactions between agents and environments that lead to alcohol use and problems. 

In order to investigate these ecological relationships we undertook studies in 50 cities in California with populations between 50,000 and 500,000. The sample exhibited a very wide range of variation in their alcohol environments (e.g., number of outlets per square mile varied by a factor of 5 or more). The cities also exhibited a broad diversity of neighborhood conditions (e.g., wealth and poverty) from which adult drinkers and their children could be sampled.  Extensive archival data were available for the cities, including rates of reported child abuse and neglect, numbers of outlets by type, the numbers and specifics of arrests, and motor vehicle crashes. The cities also varied substantially in terms of regulatory mechanisms used to reduce youth access to alcohol (e.g., social hosting laws). Our research on drinking locations expanded to include studies of drug and alcohol use in night clubs. We added an Education and Dissemination Component to develop tools for communicating important prevention information to communities throughout the U.S. Our experiences working with local communities and with national organizations that serve communities has indicated that synthesis documents in key problem areas are of the greatest interest and usefulness to community groups. By providing readily accessible online resources and actively pursuing public outreach to communities in California we have developed effective methods for the education and dissemination of “best practices” for environmental community alcohol prevention. Additional studies investigated effects of local tobacco policies on smoking among adolescents; effects of alcohol product placements in the media; relations among alcohol outlets, neighborhood characteristics and intimate partner violence. Other studies investigated risky alcohol and drug use, aggression, and related problems in night clubs using portal survey methods; and putting science into practice by developing a marketing strategy for evidence-based interventions to reduce alcohol-related problems in college communities. Community based participatory research was undertaken to improve health among Cambodian-American women. Concurrently, studies investigated youths'  use of social and commercial sources of alcohol, and the effects of alcohol privatization on alcohol sales, consumption, and alcohol-related mortality. A large randomized trial of environmental approaches to preventing alcohol-related problems on college campuses was undertaken also.

2013-2017: The current Center grant builds upon our previous work. It extends research to micro-ecological analyses of youth access to alcohol and of child abuse and neglect, as well as macro-population studies of the impacts of alcohol outlets on alcohol-related problems. Our methodological approaches have expanded to include ecological momentary assessments (EMA) to track real time alcohol use in specific settings and identify how contextual factors relate to problem outcomes. Other Center studies are investigating the role of school-based clinics in adolescent and young adult sexual health; and the effects of marijuana legalization on adolescents' marijuana use, beliefs, and problems. Our basic research continues to investigate relations of alcohol and tobacco policies with alcohol and tobacco use problems. Other studies focus on health disparities relating to drinking and diabetes self-care activities; alcohol epidemiology among Mexican Americans; denormalization of tobacco and African Americans; and smoking cessation among blue collar workers.

Prevention studies include large RCT community interventions to reduce alcohol problems; interventions in night life settings; web-based interventions to prevent alcohol use and risky sexual behaviors among older teens; and interventions with retailers to prevent sales of age-restricted products to minors and to prevent over-service of alcohol more generally.