What contributes to alcohol-related violence and how can we prevent it?

Commonly seen and heard navigating down the corridor of an entertainment district are staggering patrons and their escalating aggression levels. When witnessed, incidents of alcohol-fueled violence may seem insignificant numerically; however, over the course of time the offences amount to substantial trauma and related legal costs. For example, a Canadian inmate study estimated that 28% of violent crimes reported to police are alcohol-associated1. In British Columbia, this translates to 17,888 offences in 2012 and a startling figure of 211,683 police-reported incidents over the ten years previous2. To see a striking visual illustration, visit the Victoria Police crime mapping portal and observe the concentration of assaults around the downtown entertainment district.

Behind these statistics, the alcohol-violence connection is complex and shaped by multiple factors: individual personalities, drinking environments, and social norms each having variable effects on human behaviour and drinking cultures. At the individual level it is hard to deny alcohol’s ability to impair judgement. Arguably this is the euphoric feeling (and the associated loss of fear or “Dutch Courage”) consumers seek.  The same decrease in cognitive function also leads to increased risk of physical violence and victimization when intoxicated patrons interact (i.e., around bars, nightclubs, or liquor outlets). In fact, a research article considering 11, 563 injury cases from 45 different hospitals across 16 different countries found that intoxicated patients had a higher likelihood of violence-related injury than any other catalyst. Many studies have also linked decreases in the price of alcohol, increases in trading hours, and high alcohol outlet densities (on and off premise alcohol retailers per unit area or roadway) to greater rates of homicides, assaults, and domestic violence independent of demographic and socio-economic status3&4. The only positive note is the consistently insignificant effect of restaurant liquor licenses on violence rates inferring that drinking with a meal and a small social group is mostly low risk.

Preventative measures to reduce the burden of alcohol-related violence are not out of reach for British Columbians. In fact, we have already come a long way in accepting evidence- based limits on pressing matters such as driving rights and public intoxication. Should we not consider the expediency of introducing fair pricing of higher alcohol content products, limiting late night sales of alcohol, and restricting alcohol outlet densities since these have been shown to reduce alcohol-related violence5&6? Allowing alcohol prices to keep pace with inflation6, shortening the 9:00am to 4:00am hours of on-premise liquor sales, and creating population based restrictions on liquor establishment densities removing the pressure on municipal governments to assess and approve liquor licenses7 seem reasonable steps toward harm reduction.

Armed with this knowledge, what alcohol availability restrictions are we willing to accept in order to decrease related harms?

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Author: Jessica Fitterer 

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2 thoughts on “What contributes to alcohol-related violence and how can we prevent it?

  1. I think your article brushes up against an underlying theme. The theme of intention. Restaurant licenses have a comparatively low correlation with violence and I think it’s because the intention is different. Alcohol consumed at a restaurant is not the focal point, and it’s socially inappropriate to get drunk under those circumstances as well. Alcohol consumed at a night club or bar is consumed in a different (read larger) quantity, with the very point being to alter our cognition. Add to this a social imperative to intentionally act in a way we normally wouldn’t and you have a recipe for disaster. It’s a kind of group think with no brakes.

    The idea of licensing restrictions will undoubtedly have a limiting effect so long as they are within reasonable limits. Become too restrictive and you have simply moved the drinking underground as shown with Prohibition both in Canada in the 1800’s and more recently the US in the 1900’s.

    My suggestion would be to take the energy and intention of the night clubs and bars, and give it a chance to run out. Allow the bars to stay open later hours, but restrict their sales of liquor 2-3 hours before closing. Now the desire to cut loose is given a direction and purpose by the establishment itself, and by the time the crowds end up in the streets, they will have had a chance to sober up and wind down.

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