Studies consistently show a strong link between alcohol use and violence, such as homicide. New research that looks at the relationship among drinking, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) membership, and homicide mortality has found that AA can have a beneficial effect on alcohol-related homicide mortality rates, particularly among males who consume beer and spirits.
Results are published in the October issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
"It is important to try to understand the factors that could reduce alcohol's adverse effects," said Robert E. Mann, senior scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and associate professor of public health sciences at the University of Toronto. "We know that economic and legal measures such as taxation policies, increased drinking ages, and lowered legal limits for driving can exert powerful effects on alcohol problem rates. We also know that individual participation in AA and alcohol treatment can have very beneficial effects. We wanted to see if these beneficial effects are observable at population levels, that is, if numerous people are positively influenced." Mann is also the study's corresponding author.
According to the World Health Organization, said Mark Asbridge, assistant professor and chair of graduate studies in the department of community health and epidemiology at Dalhousie University, "alcohol is a leading [contributor to the] global burden of disease, and homicide is just one of a number of negative consequences of its consumption. Given this link, any policies or intervention that reduce or remove alcohol consumption are bound to offer some beneficial reduction in aggregate violent incidents – in this case, mortality."
Researchers used Statistics Canada data to gather Ontario-specific information on per capita total alcohol consumption – breaking out consumption of beer, spirits and wine separately – as well as deaths due to homicide for individuals aged 15 years and older for the years of 1968 through to 1991. AA membership data was secured from the AA General Service Board Central Office in New York, which surveyed AA groups every three years for the same time period.
"Our study showed that total and male homicide rates in Ontario were strongly related to average levels of alcohol consumption," said Mann. "These observations confirm previous research showing that alcohol is a leading contributor to violence, as well as violence-related mortality."
Researchers also found that alcohol's violent effects seem more pronounced among males than females.
Asbridge said that he was not particularly surprised by these gender findings. "Intuitively, the nature of both male drinking patterns and homicide is different than that of females," he said. "Males drink more often, more heavily, and consume more beer and spirits than females. Moreover, the nature of the link between alcohol consumption and violence is more readily a male experience, for example, drinking heavily in bar settings leads to aggression and violence. Thus, these findings speak to the context in which males and females drink."
"We also saw these effects for spirits, beer and total alcohol – but not wine – consumption," said Mann. "This confirms that different alcoholic beverages may be more or less likely to be associated with different violence-associated risk behaviours."
Finally, results also showed that as AA membership increased, homicide levels decreased.
"These findings are particularly interesting because they suggest that participation in AA and alcohol treatment may be exerting beneficial effects that are influencing alcohol-related homicide rates at the population level," said Mann. "These observations are also in agreement with recent studies of the effects of AA membership rates on deaths from alcohol-related liver disease and suicide, and they increase our confidence that we can achieve success in efforts to prevent or reduce alcohol-related problems."
In addition to the help that AA can offer, Asbridge noted that other factors that can help decrease the drinking rate in the population, such as an increase in alcohol taxes, might also decrease the homicide rate. "From a policy standpoint," he suggested, "efforts to reduce negative consequences associated with alcohol consumption might benefit from targeting beer and spirits consumption. Right now, in Canada, beer is typically taxed at a lower level than wine and thus is more economical to purchase with respect to its alcohol content – price per volume of alcohol. By making beer more costly we might have some aggregate impact on consumption patterns and, in turn, the negative consequences associated with its use."
Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research (ACER) is the official journal of the Research Society on Alcoholism and the International Society for Biomedical Research on Alcoholism. Co-authors of the ACER paper, "Alcohol Consumption, Alcoholics Anonymous Membership and Homicide Mortality Rates in Ontario 1968-1991," were: Rosely Flam Zalcman, Reginald G. Smart, and Helen Suurvali of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health; and Brian R. Rush of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health as well as the Departments of Psychiatry and Public Health at the University of Toronto. The study was funded by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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