A study published in the journal Addiction has found that living closer to bars may promote risky drinking behaviors. Researchers are not sure whether proximity to the bars themselves raises the risk for risky drinking, or whether heavy drinkers tend to live close to bars. However, the research suggests that the correlation may be stronger for the former.
The study, conducted in Finland, examined data from 54,778 people. The data was obtained from the Finnish Public Sector Study, which examined people between the ages of 2000 and 2009. Researchers calculated residents' distance to the nearest bar using Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates.
Jaana I. Halonen and her colleagues found that, when a participant in the study moved just one kilometer, or 0.6 miles, closer to a bar, their risk for becoming a heavy drinker increased by 17 percent.
The team of researchers found that, among people who lived a mean of 0.12 kilometers, or 400 feet, from the closest bar, over 9 percent of residents were heavy drinkers. For those who lived 2.4 kilometers, or 1.5 miles away, a comparatively paltry 7.5 percent were heavy drinkers.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies heavy drinkers as women who drink one standard alcoholic drink a night, or men who drink two per night.
Halonen said to Reuters she suspected at first that heavy drinkers may choose to live more closely to bars than other people. But a significant subsection of the participants lived in neighborhoods where bars moved closer to them, and the correlation of increased drinking was found there as well.
Researchers also suspected that income level may have been related to their findings. In Finland, low-income people are more likely to drink more heavily. But even when Halonen and her colleagues controlled for income, distance from the nearest bar remained highly correlated to risky drinking behavior.
Of course, problem drinking is tied to a number of factors in a person's life. But Halonen suggests that limiting bars' hours of operation or restricting the times when alcohol retailers can sell drinks may curtail problem drinking.
It would remain to be seen if the research holds true in other countries, where cultural norms differ. In Finland, people drink less often than people in the United Kingdom and Australia do, for example. In the United States, it is presumed that people drink less often.
"On the other hand, it is unlikely that easy access to a bar would affect drinking only among Finnish employees," Janna Halonen said.