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The Relationship Between Alcohol Availability and
Injury and Crime

There is a growing body of research that shows what many people already know: areas with more alcohol outlets (a business or location where alcoholic beverages are sold) tend to experience more alcohol-related injury and crime. Incidents of sexual and other assaults, domestic violence, child abuse, youth violence, homicides, alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes, and drunk driving have all been shown to increase when the availability of alcohol increases.

Concern among local communities generally focuses on alcohol availability from commercial outlets, such as bars and retail stores. But public availability of alcohol, or alcohol that is served at public events and in public places such as parks, can be a significant source of alcohol in the community and should also be of concern.

The Facts

  • The number of alcohol outlets is related to violent assaults. One study showed that each additional alcohol outlet was associated with 3.4 additional assaults per year. Scribner, R., Mackinnon, D. & Dwyer, J.: “The risk of assaultive violence and alcohol availability in Los Angeles County.” American Journal of Public Health (85) 3: 335-340. 1995.

  • Alcohol outlet density has been shown to be the single most important environmental factor explaining why violent crime rates are higher in certain areas of the city than in others. LaBouvie, E. & Ontkush, M.:”Violent crime and alcohol availability: relationships in an urban community.” Journal of Public Health Policy 19(3):303-318. 1998.

  • There are a greater number of alcohol-related injury crashes in cities with higher outlet densities. A 1% increase in outlet density means a .54% increase in alcohol-related crashes. Thus, a city of 50,000 residents with 100 alcohol outlets would experience an additional 2.7 crashes for each new outlet opened. Scribner, R., Mackinnon, D. & Dwyer, J.: “Alcohol outlet density and motor vehicle crashes in Los Angeles County cities.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol (44): 447-453, July 1994.

  • Blocks that have more bars have higher crime rates for murder, rape, assault, robbery, burglary, grand theft and auto theft. Adding one bar to a block would result in 3.38 crimes committed on that block in a year. It would increase the risk of murder taking place on that block by 5%, and increase the risk of having a violent crime of any type by 17.6%. Runcek, D. & Maier, P. “Bars, blocks and crimes revisited: linking the theory of routine activities to the empiricism of ‘hot spots.’ “ Criminology (29) 4: 725-753. 1991.

  • The level of drinking, drinking participation, and participation in binge drinking are all significantly higher among all college students when a greater number of outlets licensed to sell alcoholic beverages exist near campus. This is particularly true for underage drinking. Chaloupka, F. & Wechsler, H. “Binge drinking in college: the impact of price, availability and alcohol control policies.” Contemporary Economic Policy, vol. xiv, October 1996.

  • Freedom from unwanted interruptions in one’s house or place of business are fundamental legal rights. A basic tenet of law is the right to the “quiet enjoyment” of one’s own property. High densities of alcohol outlets cause noise, traffic, loitering, and other disturbances of the public peace. Preventing Problems Related to Alcohol Availability: Environmental Approaches. U.S. DHHS Pub No. (SMA) 99-3298.

Policy Solutions
Communities can influence both alcohol availability and consumption, and thereby mitigate related problems, by controlling the number of alcohol outlets, regulating the behavior of current outlets, and even closing problem outlets. These measures, along with others such as stricter enforcement on underage sales of alcohol and responsible alcohol service training, are part of a broader strategy that communities can implement to prevent and reduce threats to the health and safety of their residents from alcohol abuse.