How Many Bars Are Too Many?

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In a report released as a preprint from the journal, “Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research,” epidemiologists have found a link between the number of bars in an area and the level of domestic violence reported.

Retail, Restaurants and Bars (Oh My)

“Bars” isn’t quite accurate though. More properly the study looked at three varieties of alcohol outlets, including bars, but also retail stores and restaurants where liquor or beer are sold. The study used data gathered in California to show a link that has only previously been shown in other countries. Researchers say that California is unique in how domestic violence, or “intimate partner violence” (IPV), is reported in emergency room documentation.

Of the three types of outlets, only the density of bars in an area was predictive of a higher than average level of IPV. In fact, having retail outlets in an area was negatively correlated to domestic violence injuries. This goes against the idea and picture of a troubled inner city neighborhood with a liquor store on every corner.

The question is whether abusers (largely men) are going to a bar to escape their household and then returning drunk to commit violence. This wasn’t part of the research.

The study used data gathered over two and a half years.

Don't confuse correlation with cause

The authors caution against the assumption of cause and effect. They are not claiming that bars cause domestic violence, and, in fact, violence reported at an ER is only one form – the kind of violence that results in injury needing medical treatment. Verbal assault, minor injuries or mental abuse would not be recorded.

The importance of the study, according to researchers, is that hospital staff might need more training on IPV in areas where the density of bars is higher than normal. The idea is that this data will translate into a general rule, applicable in other states.

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