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Communities Containing More Alcohol Outlets Show Increased Underage Alcohol Access

Research Indicates Communities with a Higher Concentration of Alcohol Outlets are More Likely to Contain Greater Levels of Underage Alcohol Access.

BERKELEY, Calif., May 21 /PRNewswire/ -- Communities containing larger numbers of stores selling alcohol are more likely to have higher levels of underage alcohol access, according to a three-year study carried out by the Prevention Research Center of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in Berkeley, CA.

Researchers surveyed 14- to 16-year-old adolescents in 50 California ZIP codes, and found that ZIP codes with greater densities of off-premises alcohol outlets, such as liquor or grocery stores, correlated to respondents reporting more alcohol access through either commercial or social sources. The study was published in the latest edition of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

"Study after study shows that having high outlet density leads to a variety of alcohol-related problems, especially for youth," said Dr. Paul Gruenewald, principal investigator of the project. "Communities should keep that in mind when they make decisions about zoning and licensing."

Since the drinking age was raised to 21 in 1984, strategies for reducing underage drinking have restricted youth alcohol access by preventing purchases from commercial establishments. This approach has proven effective, and when laws are enforced more vigorously the prevention is even greater.

Still, American youth find alcohol readily available as indicated by studies that show underage-looking individuals could purchase alcohol from off-premise outlets anywhere from 30% to 70% of the time. In addition, the likelihood that purchase attempts succeed at one outlet is higher if similar outlets are nearby. High alcohol outlet densities can also be associated with a variety of negative impacts on youth well-being, including underage drinking and driving, violent assaults and injuries related to accidents and assaults.

"If you think about how young people drink - typically with groups of friends - a small number of risk-takers can buy the alcohol at a store and supply it to many underage drinkers," Dr. Gruenewald said.

Youth who reported drinking in the past 12 months were asked how often they acquired alcohol through various sources. Consistent with previous research, the study found only a small proportion of respondents reported buying alcohol themselves. Instead they obtained alcohol primarily through social contacts such as parents, other family members or friends. Despite this fact, after controlling for individual characteristics and median household income for that ZIP code, all types of alcohol access - direct purchase, shoulder tapping, home/family members, and underage acquaintances - were higher in ZIP codes with greater alcohol outlet densities. This association was not significant for getting alcohol from of-age acquaintances.

"These findings show that high alcohol outlet densities in the community allow underage youth to get alcohol from various sources - not just by buying it themselves," said Dr. Meng-Jinn Chen, lead author of the study. Dr. Gruenewald and Dr. Chen emphasized the important message from this study is that having many alcohol outlets in a community creates an environment where alcohol is easy to obtain - whether buying it from friends or family.

About The Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation:

The Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE) is one of the nation's preeminent independent, nonprofit organizations merging scientific knowledge and proven practice to improve the health and safety of communities around the world. PIRE conducts research and evaluation and provides training and technical assistance on a wide range of public health and safety issues.

    For additional information contact:
    Chris Stoughton
    Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation
    (301) 755-2773

SOURCE The Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation
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