My neighbour’s drinking problem is mine too

May 26, 2017

Drinking alcohol is part of life for billions of people worldwide and has been the case since the time of our ancestors. But not everyone who drinks does it peacefully. Plainly speaking, if people drinks more, then there are more heavy drinkers and more harm from alcohol and similarly, if people drinks less, there will be less harm. But this link now appears to be unravelling in my neck of the wood.A new neighbourhood alcohol consumption research conducted by a local university shows that there’s a link between levels of alcohol consumption in my hood and rates of harm. Across a range of settings including when my hood per capita alcohol consumption goes up, rates of alcohol problems like mortality and violence, for example go up with them and that was the case in 2016 according to the data students shared. Indeed last year we have shocking cases where a bloke knifed his girlfriend for allegedly cheating on him. A middle aged woman, a retired cop beat up the hubby for eloping with a college chic and to this date, his wounds are still visible. Both of them are professional drunkards.Recently, these trends have begun to uncouple in a number of homes in the hood. Over the last two years or so, data from the research shows that there’s almost no change in the amount of alcohol consumed per person in the hood. In 2015, it was 9.78 litres of pure alcohol, while in 2016 it was 9.75 litres. In contrast, rates of alcohol related harm are increasing.The study that covered both young people and adults in my hood found a sharp increases in a range of problems from alcohol. This includes rates of alcohol related hospitalisations, presentations at emergency departments due to intoxication, late night assaults, domestic violence involving alcohol and alcohol treatment. I must admit i wasn’t involved in the research nor contacted as I’ve never taken amber fluid so I’ve no clue about its effects and have no bizzo about it. But that doesn’t mean if my neighbour is knifed as a result of alcohol related violence am not affected.I sought the views from two of the researchers to explain to me why their findings had diverging trends. One of them told me that there’s the possibility that data systems and practices have changed. While most measures of harm increased in 2016, rates of alcohol related mortality have not. So researcher says we could be seeing a coordinated shift in how hospital workers, paramedics and local police station treat alcohol data and this requires a shift in practice across multiple systems.

While possible, this seems unlikely to explain the full extent of the observed trends in my neighbourhood. And if I assume the available data reflect real underlying changes, then something more interesting is going on in the hood.This is because compared to three years ago, alcohol consumption patterns have actually be fragmenting. Back in the days, a large number of moderate drinkers used to drink excessively on weekend but the last year or so many of them seem to have slightly reduced their alcohol consumption, while a smaller group of heavy drinkers increased theirs and they are always at the local pub day and night. This in my view leads to relatively steady per capita consumption in the neighbourhood, but the potential for increases in alcohol related harms mostly experienced by the heavier drinkers.After reading the report which was financed by a wealthy business family that is facing serious challenges with alcoholic kids, it is clear that local health oriented alcohol policy is mainly focusing on shifting population consumption through measures such as over taxation and physical availability but the reality is, there’s little to show for it. Perhaps, the important question is not what effect taxation or earlier closing hours, our hood laws means that all pubs and joints of entertainment must shut by midnight, have on consumption levels but rather what effect they have directly on rates of harm. After all we are not a middle of city hood where ruffians have unlimited time.Notably, the study found the vast increase in the number of places in the hood to buy alcohol has had little impact on overall consumption but has directly influenced rates of alcohol related problems.Arguably, changes to neighbourhood level alcohol availability particularly impact risky and marginalised drinkers, those likely to experience harm from their drinking. The study also show heavy drinkers respond to price changes and that increasing alcohol taxes reduces injury and death. Possibly, local level policy solutions still make the most sense, even as local level consumption and harm rates drift apart. There are still a lot of questions the University researchers need research to tackle like which local demographics, gender drinking is shifting and perhaps find out why.Me thinks the local University did a great job and whatever the case, recent increases in alcohol related harm are of grave concern to me and many other neighbours and it’s critical that we address this trend as a community because a hood drunkard’s problem is ours too.

Contador Harrison