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Drinking Often Spurs Move to Poorer Neighborhoods

Alcoholism a common trigger for downward social mobility, study confirms

TUESDAY, Aug. 28 (HealthDay News) -- While alcoholism and living in a downscale neighborhood often go together, a new study finds that it is the problem drinking that usually comes first.

"The more alcohol problems a man has, the more likely he is going to remain in, or migrate into, a disadvantaged neighborhood," according to a team of University of Michigan researchers. They report their findings in the September issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

"It can be kind of bleak when you look at it, but we know that alcoholics are prone to a whole range of negative consequences," added Ryan Trim, a research psychologist at the VA San Diego Health Care System who's familiar with the findings.

Experts have looked at the connections between neighborhoods and alcohol use in the past, but they've tended to focus on how bad neighborhoods might help produce alcoholism, Trim said.

He said the new study is unusual, because it looks at the link from the other direction: whether alcohol use makes people more likely to migrate to worse areas.

In the study, the University of Michigan team looked at a sample of 206 white men -- average age 33 -- from a four-county area. The region was not disclosed.

Some of the participants were recruited through court records about drunk-driving arrests, and researchers considered them to be either "probable" or "definite" alcoholics. For comparison purposes, the other men in the study were not alcoholics. All the men lived with their children.

The researchers followed the men for 12 years, checking in with them every three years.

After adjusting their figures to account for factors such as poverty level and antisocial behavior, the researchers found that the more trouble a man had with alcohol, the more likely he was to move to, or reside in, a poorer neighborhood.

It's not clear if alcoholism has the same impact on women. However, "the effects may be even stronger on women, because alcoholic women have a high tendency to marry alcoholic men," study co-author Anne Buu, a research investigator of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, noted in a statement. The involvement of both partners with alcohol abuse could speed up any downward social drift, she said.

Recovering alcoholics, however, weren't any more likely than non-alcoholics to live in disadvantaged neighborhoods. That suggests that "if you do have problems, and you're able to stick with [recovery], you won't be at any greater risk for this downward drift into bad neighborhoods," Trim said.

The findings weren't a big surprise, said Aaron White, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Duke University who studies alcohol use.

"Every now and then, a study will come out that confirms something that most of us know intuitively," said White. There's "no question that alcoholism affects quality of life. The data in this study point to one of the ways that alcohol affects quality of life -- by influencing the type of neighborhood a person lives in."

The study is also useful "from the standpoint that the data confirm what most of us would have suspected anyway," he said. It's "not groundbreaking by any stretch of the imagination but a worthwhile contribution to the knowledge base."

And there's good news: The study provides "additional evidence that sobering up is good for people with alcohol problems," White said.

More information

Learn more about alcohol use from the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

SOURCES: Ryan Trim, Ph.D., research psychologist, VA San Diego Health Care System; Aaron White, Ph.D., assistant professor, psychiatry, Duke University, Durham, N.C.; September 2007, Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research

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