Washington, December 5, 2008 (PAHO) - A new Pan American Health Organization book provides evidence from 10 countries that excessive alcohol consumption is associated with increased risk of intimate partner violence among men and women.
Research results reported in the book published today, Unhappy Hours: Alcohol and Partner Aggression in the Americas, both perpetration and victimization of physical aggression by intimate partners to drinking patterns, age and marital status.
At the book launching, Mexican singer José José was honored as a PAHO Champion of Health by PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses (Photo David Spitz/PAHO)
"The publication of Unhappy Hours: Alcohol and Partner Aggression in the Americas is the latest contribution to a better understanding of partner violence and, in so doing, to find more effective interventions to right this wrong," said Dr. Mirta Roses, Director of the Pan American Health Organization. "The book's message is clear: effective policies to decrease excessive, harmful alcohol consumption in a population will have a beneficial impact on the rates of violence against women."
"Unhappy Hours" provides evidence from Argentina, Canada, Costa Rica, Brazil, Belize, Nicaragua, Peru, Mexico, Uruguay, and the USA that excessive alcohol consumption is associated with increased risk of both victimization and perpetration of intimate partner violence for both men and women in these countries.
The link is primarily with consuming large amounts per occasion - there is no consistent pattern linking intimate partner violence with frequency of drinking. Male partners were more likely to be drinking at the time of aggression in countries where drinking is relatively infrequent and where those who drink consume larger amounts per occasion, a pattern typical of most of the Region's countries.
"For many years we have known and been concerned about the damage that partner violence has inflicted on women, children, and even men in our Region, "added Dr. Roses, in a preface to the book. "We have also known that alcohol is one of the leading risk factors for the burden of disease in the Americas ? in 2002 alone, alcohol was responsible for more than 323,000 deaths and more than 14 million years of healthy life lost to premature death and disability."
The research was completed as part of the GENACIS project (Gender, Alcohol and Culture: An International Study), on current knowledge on partner aggression. The book was edited by Dr.Kathryn Graham from Canada's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), CAMH's Sharon Bernards, Myriam MunnÃ© from the Research Institute of University of Buenos Aires and Sharon Wilsnack from the University of North Dakota, and published by PAHO.
"The PAHO Multicentric Study is an arm of this initiative that specifically examines these issues in 10 countries of the Americas and explores the relationship between alcohol consumption and partner violence," said Lori Heise, research fellow at the Gender Violence and Health Centre, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. "Not only does the PAHO study address an under-attended aspect of the violence dilemma, it advances research methodology by collecting detailed information on how women and men experience the event: "How severe was it? What was your level of fear? How upset were you just after the incident happened?"
"If you talk to women about their experiences of violence, they frequently link drinking and abuse, especially drinking by their male partners. Women have long suspected what this study now confirms: the risk of violence goes up when men drink heavily," she added.
Alcohol policies that curtail overall alcohol consumption, such as price/taxation, regulating marketing and the hours and points of sale, can have an impact on the relationship between alcohol and domestic violence, the book showed. A study in Diadema, Brazil, showed that reducing hours of sale of alcoholic beverages resulted in 30 percent fewer police calls related to violence against women.
"In light of the evidence of the relationship between partner violence and heavy alcohol consumption, effective policies to reduce heavy episodic consumption of alcohol need to be promoted as an integral part of policies and programs to reduce domestic violence. Regardless of the level of development or culture, it is clear that action is needed to address alcohol-related partner violence," according to Dr. Maristela G. Monteiro, PAHO's senior advisor on Alcohol and Substance Abuse, and Marijke Velzeboer-Salcedo, senior advisor on Gender, Ethnicity and Health, at PAHO.
Although both male and female partners carried out acts of aggression when drinking, women experienced more severe aggression and injury. They were also more afraid of their partner, and were more angry and upset, the research showed.
In Unhappy Hours, the Canadian chapter looks at alcohol and partner aggression in the 10 provinces using data from the GENACIS Canada survey, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).
Analyses from the survey suggested that level of alcohol consumption was strongly associated with being both the perpetrator and victim of partner physical aggression. For example, both men and women who consumed five or more drinks on any occasion in the past year were significantly more likely to report partner physical aggression than were respondents who never consumed alcohol at this level. The relationship between drinking pattern and partner aggression was especially strong among those who reported that alcohol was involved in the most severe incident that they had experienced in the past two years.
The study also found that partner aggression decreased with age and was least likely among couples who were legally married (compared to cohabiting, divorced/separated or single). In addition, female victims rated aggression by the male partner as more severe and themselves as more afraid, upset and angry compared with ratings by male victims. These findings were mirrored across the other nine countries included in the analyses, suggesting that the relationship between alcohol consumption and intimate partner violence is similar across diverse cultures and drinking patterns.
Dr. Graham said, "It is particularly noteworthy that, although frequency of drinking is not consistently related to partner violence across different countries, there is a very consistent link between amount consumed per occasion and engaging in partner violence, suggesting that it is intoxication rather than merely alcohol use that provides the link."
Ambassador Albert R. Ramdin, Assistant Secretary General of the Organization of American States, noted at the book launching, "Violence is not just in the home. Violence against women includes, as well, violence perpetrated in the community and, violence perpetrated or condoned by the State or its agents. This makes for an ample array of perpetrators and a great variety of spaces where women are at risk. Protecting women from the manifestations of violence and discrimination involves not only fixing laws and policies to eliminate latent sexism, but also fighting against the prejudices of public officials in charge of applying them."
Noted Mexican singer José José was honored as a PAHO Champion of Health by Dr. Roses at the book launching, and offered a personal testimony about his struggles with alcohol and the importance of respecting women.
The Pan American Health Organization, founded in 1902, works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of their peoples. It serves as the Regional Office of the World Health Organization (WHO).