Background: Alcohol is a group 1 carcinogen. Longitudinal studies have shown that drinking at an early age increases the likelihood of drinking as an adult. Identifying factors that can reduce adolescent drinking may help to reduce their cancer risk. Higher density of alcohol outlets in a community has been associated with greater alcohol consumption among adults. However the relationship is less clear for adolescents, particularly in an Australian context.
Aim: To examine the association between alcohol outlet density and adolescents’ alcohol consumption in urban and regional settings.
Methods: Data from a national survey of students (12-17 years) conducted triennially between 2002 and 2011 (n range 16,215-18,943) was used. The outcome measures were past month alcohol use, risky drinking amongst all students and risky drinking amongst current drinkers. Each student was assigned a postcode-level alcohol outlet density (number of licences per 1,000 population) for general, on-premise, off-premise and club licences. Logistic regressions examined the associations between each outlet type and drinking outcomes by geographic location.
Results: In metropolitan communities, off-premise density was associated with past month use (OR=1.39, p<.01) and club density (OR=2.12, p<.001) was associated with current risky drinking. Each outlet type, except general licences, was significantly associated with risky drinking. For adolescents living in regional and rural areas, club density was associated with past month use (OR=1.10, p=.03) and risky drinking (OR=1.18, p=.02). No associations were found between outlet density and current risky drinking in regional communities.
Conclusions: Exposure to a high density of outlets in an adolescent’s neighbourhood, particularly off-premise outlets and licensed clubs in metropolitan areas, and licensed clubs in regional areas, is related to increased likelihood of alcohol consumption. Limiting the number of these types of liquor licences within communities may be beneficial in reducing alcohol use and subsequent harms associated with risky drinking among adolescents.