Alcohol Availability Influences Heavy Drinking

Research on alcohol consumption has largely taken place in high-income countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom. In a less affluent country alcohol may be consumed for different reasons, in different quantities and purchased in different ways. A study that was initiated as a way to compare data from high- and middle/low-income countries found that heavy drinkers in the high-income country of New Zealand were adept at finding cheaper alcohol.

The International Alcohol Control (IAC) initially involved New Zealand, Thailand, South Korea, England and Scotland, and now it includes Australia, Peru, Mongolia, South Africa, St. Kitts and Vietnam.

The study found that in New Zealand the heavier drinkers tend to buy cheaper alcohol at later times when compared with other types of drinkers. Corresponding author for the study Sally Casswell, director of Social and Health Outcomes Research and Evaluation at Auckland’s Massey University, says there needs to be a reliable way to determine policy decisions related to alcohol consumption. The project was designed to allow for data collection and comparison across time and various countries.

Casswell and her team conducted a survey between July and October of 2011 using a nationally representative sample of 1,900 drinkers over the age of 18, gathering data such as time and location of purchase, amount purchased, price of the product and details about consumption, including the location and the beverage consumed.

The researchers analyzed the connections between variables that are affected by policy and alcohol consumption. They included in their consideration demographic variables and looked at government data related to consumption, aggregate expenditures, and examined prices determined by the Consumer Price Index.

The analysis showed that those that were drinking the most were paying the least for the alcohol they consumed.

Individuals that purchased alcohol at off-license premises were most likely to be daily drinkers, while alcohol purchased at bars and restaurants was not linked to the frequency of consumption, only to the quantity consumed. In addition, the survey showed that heavy drinkers, both in quantity and frequency, tended to purchase alcohol at later hours.

The researchers note that while previous surveys have underestimated alcohol consumption by up to 40 or 50 percent, but in the current study the team examined and accounted for nearly all alcohol purchases and demonstrated that the prices reported were accurate.

The study showed that survey respondents were able to answer questions about the price paid for alcohol with a reasonable level of accuracy.

Previous research has shown that purchases made at off-license premises are linked with family violence and child abuse. The limitation of such sales late at night may allow for the reduction in negative consequences connected with heavy drinking.

The findings provide more actionable items for policymakers than for clinicians. While behaviors may not be impacted with the data on its own, policy can affect the hours of operation and the prices of the products affecting heavy drinking.

Just as importantly, the findings represent the first step in developing replicable results to test the effectiveness of certain alcohol policies in low- and middle-income countries. It promises validity in testing the use of such policies.

Posted on April 7th, 2014
Posted in Alcohol Abuse

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