Though alcohol addiction is a behavioral illness, many experts agree that environmental factors figure largely in how a person thinks about and interacts with alcohol. Environmental factors such as product availability, social attitude and advertising can all play a part in whether or not a person will abuse alcohol. Socio-economic factors may also contribute, but the data on its influence remains a bit complex.
Studies show that living in an area where many bars and liquor stores are located tends to promote social acceptance of drinking. Attitudes toward drinking are better than 15 percent more positive among people who live near numerous alcohol sales outlets. Not surprisingly, drinking is also 11 percent more prevalent in these areas as well.
How the immediate culture feels toward alcohol is another significant contributor towards a person’s drinking behavior. When a person sees more role models either engaging in or gaining in some way through alcohol consumption, then the likelihood that they will drink, or drink to excess, rises. Particularly when high-profiles personalities like sports figures or movie and music stars do not suffer negative consequences for heavy drinking, the attitude that over-drinking is beneficial thrives. Stars who fail to lose public support or appear able to laugh off the problems brought on by alcohol abuse send the message that drinking to excess is fun, sexy and popular.
Some suggest that advertising exerts even more influence on drinking behavior than does availability or attitude. The alcohol industry spends close to $4 billion every year promoting alcohol use. Most of these ads present drinking and over-drinking as normal and glamorous.
Advertising is often heaviest in poorer neighborhoods. Thus, one would expect drinking habits to be more problematic in lower income areas than in more affluent neighborhoods. Yet one study of 14,000 American adults recently revealed that, in general, poor residents are less likely to drink than are their wealthier counterparts. However, lower-income African American and Hispanic men were more likely to over-drink than wealthier men of other races. This study reveals a complex dynamic at work in lower income neighborhoods. On the one hand, there is heavier advertising and often more availability through more liquor establishments in these areas. On the other hand, there is often less disposable income and a higher rate of negative consequences in the form of greater police presence and arrests. Further study is warranted to determine how environment affects African American and Hispanic men in poorer neighborhoods. Nevertheless, the range of studies taken as a whole demonstrate that rich or poor, male or female, young or old – environment can play a significant role in determining how a person will use alcohol.