Local Drinking Can be Heavier Drinking

Which came first, the drinker or the drink? Does proximity to a bar turn people onto the demon drink or do drunks move home so that the journey from doorstep to beer-tap is of minimum duration and inconvenience? A new piece of research is suggesting that maybe, easy access to alcohol plays a part in turning some into drunks.

Scientists studied drinking habits in Finland where they discovered that out of a population close to 55,000 Finnish adults, tracked for 7 years, the ones that lived closer to bars were more prone to drinking more than was good for them. When an individual took up residence just 1 kilometer nearer a drinking establishment, the chances they would turn into a ‘heavy’ drinker were boosted by 17%.

The researchers defined ‘heavy’ as in excess of 10 ounces of distilled alcohol per week for men and around 7 ounces for women. While there is definitely a provable relationship between proximity to a bar and increased alcohol abuse it is not necessarily a causal link.


According to the report’s authors, Jaana L. Halonen, of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health “Factors other than proximity are also likely to explain the observed association.” A different and very plausible explanation is that big drinkers opt for shorter walks to bars. When the social researchers analysed the habits of a class of people within the population who never moved within the time frame, but rather had bars move to them, the increased likelihood of heavy drinking was the same.

Income level is always a key factor in any social study. Poorer people definitely drink less responsibly than the better off. From the very beginning of the study, heavier drinking was recorded where the participants (all public employees) had a short walk access to a bar, a hotel with a bar or a restaurant.

Of all the people in the study, those living within 120 meters of their local bar, just under 1 in 10 were heavy drinkers. For those with a little further to travel to their watering hole, 2.4 kms, 7.4% were ‘drunks. The trends over the seven years of the study showed people who moved closer to their favorite bar had increased chances of becoming heavy drinkers. Although the increase was only small for the individual, it becomes significant when seens as part of the larger population.

[box type=”note”]In America the CDC, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies a standard unit of alcohol as a 1.5-ounce measure of 80-proof alcohol. This means 5 ounces of wine or 8 of beer. They look at heavy drinkers when they consume on average, two units per day for men and 1 per day for women.[/box]

The Finnish researchers are the first to point out that, whether a person falls into the pit of alcoholism or not, depends on a whole host of social and personal factors. However, they also say that the restriction of bar opening hours and other alcohol access points could well help ‘local’ people to curtail their drinking.

Whether this is a recommendation that would work outside of Finland, the researchers would not say because cultural norms vary from nation to nation and probably from state to state in the US. The public health issue of alcohol abuse is a bigger problem in the UK and Australia than it is in America or Finland.

Claire Al-Aufi

Claire Al-Aufi is a contributing author for Hive Health Media who provides updates on health and fitness news.

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