More bars in rural areas linked to higher suicide

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Both attempted and completed suicides are now found to be higher in rural areas with too many bars. The number of drinking establishments and suicide statistics were studied, finding a high correlation between too many bars in rural communities and taking one’s own life.

Fred W. Johnson, associate research scientist at the Prevention Research Center, and corresponding study author says, "Our study is unique in that it is spatial, longitudinal, and examines the relationship between suicide and features of the environment such as alcohol outlets, particularly bars, that might not at first glance appear related to suicide."

The study, published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, found that suicides were higher among low-income, older whites living in rural areas, and lower among blacks and Hispanics, but that a greater density of bars equated to more suicide attempts and successes in rural areas.

"Most alcohol problems are not caused by the alcohol dependent, but by ordinary people who drink too much on a given occasion, leading to motor vehicle, pedestrian, and bicycle accidents," said Johnson. "All of these problems are related to alcohol outlets, as are more sinister problems such as homicide, assault, domestic violence, child abuse, and child neglect. This study suggests that suicide may be one of the more severe problems related to alcohol outlets, and further suggests that one way to reduce suicides and other problems related to alcohol outlets is to reduce the number of outlets, particularly bars."


Other factors also likely contribute to higher rates of suicide in rural areas, including boredom, depression, more firearm possession, and a natural attraction to rural areas among “problem prone” individuals.

Johnson says that rural suicides do not get the attention they deserve because of pressing problems in urban areas that get the most media attention. He also says the findings are ironic, “…given a recent New York Times article that called for abandoning corporate farms and returning to independent farms like the one the author grew up on in Oregon. This would be healthier for all of us and might reduce the rural suicide rate to what it was early in the last century, when it was lower than the urban rate, and when rural America, rather than desolate and lonely, was thriving and vibrant, perhaps as idyllic as it was in fable."

Dennis M. Gorman, interim director of the Health Science Center at Texas A&M University, commenting on the findings suggest that it might good to be wary of moving to rural areas with too many bars, and perhaps too many social problems that lead to higher rates of suicides.

Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research

Written by Kathleen Blanchard RN
Charlotte, NC
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