Easy Alcohol Access Increases Binge Drinking

Convenience has a powerful influence on what we choose. A fast food restaurant down the street may make it easier to shrug off plans to cook. A gas station right around the corner allows a driver to let the needle ease past the empty mark. People are often convinced to make decisions because an easy option is within arm’s reach.

It is no different when it comes to alcohol consumption, according to a new study out of New Zealand. The study found that when an individual has an off-license (convenience store) liquor outlet near home, they are more likely to be a binge drinker. The research from the University of Otago is emerging just as the New Zealand parliament begins to deliberate on an Alcohol Reform Bill.

Convenience has a downside

As liquor becomes more convenient to acquire, the likelihood that a problem may develop increases. The study revealed that binge drinking is increased by 4% with each liquor outlet that is within a kilometer of a person’s home.

Lead researcher Jennie Connor is a professor at Otago University. Connor and colleagues report that the association is consistent across the country. It applies in locations that are heavily populated with off-license liquor outlets and areas where few exist.

While most of urban New Zealand provides access to a liquor outlet or two, the study identified one area that had a heavy concentration of liquor outlets. The area showed 39 off-license liquor outlets in a one-kilometer area. Over the last 20 years, alcohol sold by off-license liquor stores has increased drastically. In 1990, 59% of all alcohol was sold by off-license stores, but in 2010 the rate is 68%.

During the same 20 years, licensed stores have increased their number of locations, too. In 1990, there were 6,295 stores. In 2010 there are 14.183 — more than double.

More than just an alcohol issue

Complicating the implications of these findings are data from a separate study that shows that binge drinking isn’t the only consequence of providing convenient liquor availability. A Waikato University research study has shown that with each additional off-license liquor outlet introduced in one area, there were 10-25 additional police events, as well as an additional 2-4 vehicle accidents.

The results from the studies are critical at a time when parliament is debating the Alcohol Reform Bill in New Zealand. The results, however, are applicable for policymakers in every area of the world. While there are many factors involved with the decision to binge drink, convenience is a commanding motivator.

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