Living near a bar appears to encourage some people to
overimbibe, as moving closer to a drinking establishment
prompts some to up their alcohol intake, a Finnish study
Researchers whose findings appeared in the journal Addiction
followed nearly 55,000 Finnish adults for seven years and
found that those who moved closer to bars were somewhat more
likely to increase their drinking.
"Moving place of residence close to, or far from, a bar
appears to be associated with a small corresponding increase
or decrease in risky alcohol behaviour," wrote lead
researcher Jaana Halonen, of the Finnish Institute of
Occupational Health in Kuopio, and her colleagues.
When a person moved one kilometer (0.6 mile) closer to a bar,
the odds of becoming a heavy drinker rose 17 percent. "Heavy
drinking" meant more than 10 ounces of distilled alcohol a
week for men, and about seven ounces a week for women.
The link doesn't prove that mere distance from a bar alone
causes people to drink more, according to the researchers.
Halonen said that one possibility is that drinkers choose to
live near bars. But she and her colleagues also looked at a
subset of people who didn't move - instead, the bars came
closer to them - and the findings were similar among those
The researchers also accounted for other factors, such as the
neighborhood poverty level - in Finland, lower-income people
are move likely to drink heavily, Halonen said. But even
here, distance from a bar remained tied to the odds of
becoming a heavy drinker.
The results are based on surveys of 54,778 Finnish public
employees followed over an average of seven years.
At the outset, there was a pattern of heavy drinking being
more common when people lived close to bars, or to
restaurants or hotels with bars.
Among people who were an average of 0.12 kilometers (400
feet) from the nearest drinking establishment, a little over
nine percent were heavy drinkers. Of those 2.4 kilometers
(1.5 miles) away, some 7.5 percent were heavy drinkers.
Halonen said that for any one person, the risk of becoming a
problem drinker is of course tied to a whole range of
factors. But she said that it's possible that restricting
bars' hours, or other alcohol retailers' operating hours,
could limit risky drinking among locals.
Since the study was done in Finland, one question is how well
the findings would apply to other countries. Halonen said
this is unclear, since drinking habits and cultural norms
vary by country.
"For instance, in the UK and Australia, heavy drinking is
reported to be more common than in Finland, whereas in the
USA it is less common," she said.
"On the other hand, it is unlikely that easy access to a bar
would affect drinking only among Finnish employees."