This study uses small scale multi-methods approaches, including local survey and archival data, to assess the social mechanisms relating neighborhood densities of off-premise alcohol outlets to alcohol-related problems. While there are several well established and theoretically explained statistical relationships between alcohol problems and high densities of on-premise outlets (i.e., establishments licensed to sell alcohol consumed on site), statistical associations between densities of off-premise outlets and problems and theoretical explanations of these relationships have been more difficult to establish.
We will link outlet ethnographies being collected as part of an on-going study (“Impacts of Off-Premise Alcohol Outlets on Local Neighborhood Alcohol Problems”) (Phase 1) to neighborhood surveys and related population data from 100 neighborhoods in one urban area in California (Phase 2) to investigate and test four social mechanisms which may link off-premise outlets to alcohol-related problems at the neighborhood level. The social mechanisms by which off-premise outlets affect problems are best investigated and established at this local scale.
Our aims are to test hypotheses that follow from these four mechanisms: (1) Alcohol Availability: Greater numbers of off-premise outlets in neighborhood areas increase the convenience of alcohol to consumers and enable impulsive purchases by heavy users at lower prices, typically for use in private residences. As sources for purchasing alcohol for immediate local consumption, off-premise outlets may also increase public drinking and related problems in or near to stores; (2) Crime Attractors: Off-premise outlets attract persons at higher risk for crime and violence, either as potential perpetrators or victims; greater density of outlets thus concentrates the risk for violence-related injuries; (3) Social Disorganization: Off-premise outlet densities are greatest in socially disorganized neighborhoods and mark for these other conditions that lead to crime and violence, irrespective of alcohol sold in the stores; and (4) Place Management: The ability of store clerks to manage social comportment of persons in and around off-premise outlets will be conditioned by place management policies and social relationships among persons in and around stores; poor place management will thus yield more local area problems.
We have collected data at and around off-premise outlets in a contiguous area in Alameda County, CA, in six municipalities ranging widely in terms of race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status and off-premise outlet density. By collecting and analyzing data on outlets and residents at scales of the outlet and local neighborhood environments and locating these data with the larger framework of the community, we bridge micro- and macro-ecological perspectives.
The findings of this research can contribute to efforts to reduce alcohol-related problems and improve health in communities. If the sale of alcohol in outlets directly leads to increased alcohol abuse and dependence and related problems among local residents, the results of this study will provide the evidence base needed by communities who wish to improve the specific conditions of local alcohol markets. If on the other hand the results show a relationship to neighborhood conditions, the study will provide the evidence base that communities need to implement broader structural interventions to improve the neighborhood conditions that contribute to alcohol-related problems.