We tend to think of alcohol problems as coming from the behavior and inclinations of individual drinkers. In fact, the community environments in which people live can have a very important impact on alcohol use and problems. Understanding the important characteristics of the drinking environment and how these characteristics affect behavior and problems can help us better develop and implement prevention strategies in communities. This project is designed to increase our understanding of the ways that community environments affect alcohol problems. We are simulating how people behave in specific environments and how what they see and hear and with whom they interact affects their risks for alcohol-related problems. We can think of communities and the people in them as complicated systems. Fortunately, in recent years, new tools have been developed to aid in the analysis of complex community systems. In this Center component, we will use the Framework for Reconstructing Epidemiologic Dynamics (FRED) platform. This is a computer simulation model that represents the demographic and geographic characteristics of the population down to a fine geographic resolution (Census Blocks). It allows us to examine how specific characteristics of communities contribute to or prevent alcohol problems and how different types of prevention interventions might affect these problems.
Research Goals and Activities
Once the models of existing communities have been constructed, we will be able to change one element (for example, increase the number of bars in a community by 10% or change an enforcement policy) and measure how it affects alcohol-related problems in communities. We will apply this modeling approach to at least five kinds of alcohol problems based on current and prior Center Grant research: (a) Parents’ abuse and neglect of their children; (b) Early initiation of alcohol use and youth drinking problems; (c) Health impacts related to availability of alcohol at the US-Mexico border; (d) Alcohol use disorders, heavy drinking and problems related to drinking outside the home; and (e) The impact of social host ordinances on underage heavy drinking. These models take a lot of time and expertise to construct, but their results are easy to see and understand. They can serve as powerful tools for communities to plan the most effective prevention strategies and convince policymakers to implement the strategies that are demonstrated to work best.