Conceptual and methodological issues in studying alcohol’s harm to others

Open access


While there is a longer history of concern about alcohol’s harm to others, researchers’ interest has intensified in the last few years. The background of variation in concern over time in different societies is outlined. Three main traditions of research have emerged: population survey studies of such harm from the perspective of the ‘other’; analysis of register or case-record data which includes information on the involvement of another’s drinking in the case; and qualitative studies of interactions and experiences involved in particular harms from others’ drinking. In the course of the new spate of studies, many conceptual and methodological issues have arisen, some of which are considered in the paper. The diverse types of harms which have been studied are discussed. The social and personal nature of many of the harms means they do not fit easily into a disability or costing model, raising questions about how they might best be counted and aggregated. Harm from others’ drinking is inherently interactional, and subject to varying definitions of what counts as harm. The attribution to drinking, in the usual situation of conditional causation, is also subject to variation, with moral politics potentially coming into play. For measurement and comparison, account needs to be taken of cultural and individual variations in perceptions and thresholds of what counts as a harm, and attribution to alcohol. The view from the windows of a population survey and of a response agency case register are often starkly different, and research is needed, as an input and spur to policy initiatives, on what influences this difference and whether and how the views might be reconciled.

Aarens, M., Cameron, T., Roizen, J., Roizen, R., Room, R., Schneberk, D. & Wingard, D. (1977) Alcohol, Casualties and Crime. Berkeley, California: Social Research Group, Report No. C18

Bard, M. & Zacker, J. (1974) Assaultiveness and alcohol use in family disputes. Criminology, 12(3), 281-292.

Bellis, M. A., Quigg, Z., Hughes, K., Ashton, K., Ferris, J., & Winstock, A. (2015). Harms from other people’s drinking: an international survey of their occurrence, impacts on feeling safe and legislation relating to their control. BMJ Open, 5(12), e010112.

Berends, L., Ferris, J. & Laslett, A.-M. (2012) A problematic drinker in the family: Variations in the level of negative impact experienced by sex, relationship and living status. Addiction Research and Theory, 20(4), 300-306.

Berends, L, Ferris, J. & Laslett, A.-M. (2014) On the nature of harms reported by those identifying a problematic drinker in the family: an exploratory study. Journal of Family Violence, 29, 197-204.

Berry, R. E. & Boland, J.P. (1977) The Economic Cost of Alcohol Abuse. New York: The Free Press.

Borovoy, A. (2005) The Too-Good Wife: Alcohol, Codependency, and the Politics of Nurturance in Postwar Japan. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Caetano, R. (1991). Psychiatric epidemiology and survey research: contrasting approaches to the study of alcohol problems. Contemporary Drug Problems, 18, 99-120.

Cahalan, D. & Room, R. (1974) Problem Drinking Among American Men. (Monograph No. 7). New Brunswick: Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies.

Callinan, S. (2014) Alcohol’s harm to others: Quantifying a little or a lot of harm, International Journal of Alcohol and Drug Research, 3(2), 127-133.

Callinan, S. & Room, R. (2014) Harm, tangible or feared: young Victorians’ adverse experiences from others’ drinking or drug use. International Journal of Drug Policy, 25, 401-406.

Callinan, S., Laslett, A., Rekve, D., Room, R., Waleewong, O., Benegal, V., Casswell, S., Florenzano, R., Hanh, H., Hanh, V., Hettige, S., Huckle, T., Ibanga, A., Obot, I., Rao, G., Siengsounthone, L., Rankin, G. & Thamarangsi, T. (2016). Alcohol’s harm to others: An international collaborative project. International Journal of Alcohol and Drug Research, early view. Retrieved from doi:

Casswell, S., You, R. Q. & Huckle, T. (2011) Alcohol’s harm to others: reduced wellbeing and health status for those with heavy drinkers in their lives. Addiction, 106(6), 1087-1094.

Cherpitel, C. J., Borges, G., Giesbrecht, N., Hungerford, D., Peden, M., Poznyak, V., Room, R. & Stockwell, T., eds. (2009) Alcohol and Injuries: Emergency Department Studies in an International Perspective. Geneva: World Health Organization. Retrieved from

Cherpitel, C., Ye, Y., Bond, J. Room, R. & Borges, G. (2012) Attribution of alcohol to violence-related injury: self and others’ drinking in the event. Journal of Studies on Alcohol & Drugs, 73(2), 277-284.

Clark, W. (1966) Operational definitions of drinking problems and associated prevalence rates, Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 27(4), 648-668.

Cook, J. & Lewington, M., eds. (1979) Images of Alcoholism. London: British Film Institute.

Crampton, E., Burgess, M. & Taylor, B. (2011). The Cost of Cost Studies. Christchurch, NZ: Department of Economics & Finance, University of Canterbury, Working Paper No. 29/2011. Retrieved from

Dickinson, B. (1830) Alarm to distillers. In: American Tract Society, Select Temperance Tracts, p. 2. New York: American Tract Society, n.d.

Dussaillant, F. & Fernandez, M. (2015). Alcohol’s harm to others’ well-being and health: a comparison between Chile and Australia. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 50(3), 346-351.

Eliany, M., Giesbrecht, N., Belson, M., Wellman, B., & Wortley, S. (1992). Alcohol and Other Drug Use by Canadians: A National Alcohol and Other Drugs Survey (1989): Technical Report. Ottawa: Health Canada.

Fass, P. S. (1977) The Damned and the Beautiful: American Youth in the 1920’s. New York etc.: Oxford University Press.

Fillmore, K. (1985) The social victims of drinking. British Journal of Addiction, 80(3), 307-314.

GBD 2013 Risk Factors Collaborators (2015) Global, regional and national comparative risk assessment of 79 behavioural, environmental/ occupational and metabolic risks or cluster of risks in 188 countries 1990-2103: a systematic analysis for the GBD 2013. The Lancet, 386(10010), 2227-2364.

Gelles, R. J. & Straus, M. A. (1979) Violence in the American family, Journal of Social Issues, 35(2), 15-39.

Gifford, C. de S. & Slagell, A. R., eds. (2007) Let Something Good Be Said: Speeches and Writings of Frances E. Willard. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Gmel, G., Rehm, J., Room, R. & Greenfield, T.K. (2000) Dimensions of alcohol-related social and health consequences in survey research, Journal of Substance Abuse, 12, 113-138.

Graham, K., Leonard, K. E., Room, R., Wild, T. C., Pihl, R. O., Bois, C. & Single, E. (1998) Current directions in research on understanding and preventing intoxicated aggression, Addiction, 93, 659-676.

Greenfield, T. K., Karriker-Jaffe, K. J., Giesbrecht, N., Kerr, W. C., Ye, Y. & Bond, J. (2014) Second-hand drinking may increase support for alcohol policies: new results from the 2010 National Alcohol Survey. Drug and Alcohol Review, 33(3), 259-267. Retrieved from

Hauge, R. (1999). The public health perspective and the transformation of Norwegian alcohol policy. Contemporary Drug Problems, 26(2), 193-207.

Henman, P., & Marston, G. (2008) The social division of welfare surveillance. Journal of Social Policy, 37(2), 187-205.

Herd, D. (1986) Ideology, melodrama and the changing roles of alcohol problems in American films. Contemporary Drug Problems, 13, 213-247.

Herd, D. (1992) Ideology, history and changing models of liver cirrhosis epidemiology. British Journal of Addiction, 87(8), 1113-1126.

Jiang, H., Callinan, S., Laslett, A.-M. & Room, R. (2015) Correlates of caring for the drinkers and others among those harmed by another’s drinking. Drug and Alcohol Review, 34(2), 162-169.

Johansson, P., Jarl, J., Eriksson, A., Eriksson, M., Gerdtham, U.-G., Hemström, Ö., Hradilova Selin, K., Lenke, L., Ramstedt, M. & Room, R. (2006) The Social Costs of Alcohol in Sweden 2002. (SoRAD Report No. 36). Stockholm: SoRAD, Stockholm University. Retrieved from

Klingemann, H. (2001) Alcohol and its social consequences - the forgotten dimension. Copenhagen: World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe. Retrieved from

Klingemann, H. & Gmel, G. (Eds.) (2001) Mapping the Social Consequences of Alcohol Consumption. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer.

Knupfer, G. (1967) The epidemiology of problem drinking, American Journal of Public Health, 57(6), 973-986.

Laslett, A.-M. L. (2013) Alcohol and child maltreatment in Australia through the windows of child protection and a national survey. PhD thesis, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry & Health Sciences, The University of Melbourne. Retrieved from

Laslett, A.-M., Catalano, P., Chikritzhs, T., Dale, C., Doran, C., Ferris, J., Jainullabudeen, T., Livingston, M., Matthews, D., Mugavin, J., Room, R., Schlotterlein, M. & Wilkinson, C. (2010) The Range and Magnitude of Alcohol’s Harm to Others. Canberra: Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation. Retrieved from

Laslett, A.-M., Callinan, S., Mugavin, J., Jiang, H., Livingston, M., Room, R. (2015a) Beyond the Drinker: Longitudinal Patterns in Alcohol’s Harm to Others. Canberra: Foundation for Alcohol research & Education. Retrieved from

Laslett, A.-M., Mugavin, J., Jiang, H., Manton, E., Callinan, S., MacLean, S. & Room, R. (2015b) The Hidden Harm: Alcohol’s Impact on Children and Families. Canberra: Foundation for Alcohol Research & Education. Retrieved from

Laslett, A.-M., Waleewong, O., Obot, I., Benegal, V., Hettige, S., Florenzano, R., Hanh, H., Room, R. et al. (2015c) Scoping response system management of alcohol’s harm to others in middle-lower income countries. Presented at a Kettil Bruun Society thematic conference: Alcohol’s harm to others - perceptions, policies, approaches, Helsinki, Finland, 14-17 September.

Levine, H. G. (1980) Temperance and women in 19th century United States. In: O.J. Kalant, (Ed.), Alcohol and Drug Problems in Women, Vol. 5 of Research Advances in Alcohol and Drug Problems, pp. 25-67. New York & London: Plenum.

Levine, H. G. (1983). The good creature of god and the demon rum: colonial and 19th century American ideas about alcohol, accidents and crime. In: R. Room & G. Collins (Eds.), Alcohol and disinhibition, Research Monograph No. 12, pp. 111-61. Washington, DC: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Levine, H. G. (1993) Temperance cultures: Alcohol as a problem in Nordic and English-speaking cultures. In: M. Lader, G. Edwards, & D.C. Drummond (Eds.), The Nature of Alcohol and Drug-Related Problems, pp. 16-36. New York: Oxford University Press. Retrieved from

Lilienfeld, A. M. & Korns, R, F. (1950) Some epidemiological aspects of cirrhosis of the liver: a study of mortality statistics, American Journal of Hygiene, 52, 65-81.

Livingston, M., Wilkinson, C. & Laslett, A.-M. (2010) Impact of heavy drinkers on others’ health and well-being. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 71, 778-785.

Lloyd, B. (2013) Trends in Alcohol and Drug Related Ambulance Attendances in Victoria: 2011/12. Fitzroy, Vic.: Turning Point. Retrieved from

Lloyd, B., Matthews, S., Livingston, M., Jayasekara, H., & Smith, K. (2013). Alcohol intoxication in the context of major public holidays, sporting and social events: a time-series analysis in Melbourne, Australia, 2000-2009. Addiction 108(4):701-709.

Mäkelä, P., Fonager, K., Hibell, B., Nordlund, S., Sabroe, S., & Simpura, J. (1999). Drinking habits in the Nordic countries. Oslo: National Institute for Alcohol and Drug Research. Retrieved from

Manton, E., MacLean, S., Laslett, A.-M. & Room, R. (2014) Alcohol’s harm to others: using qualitative research to complement survey findings. International Journal of Alcohol and Drug Research, 3(2), 143-148. Retrieved from

Marsden Jacob Associates (2012) Bingeing, Collateral Damage and the Benefits and Costs of Taxing Alcohol Rationally. Camberwell, Vic., etc.: Marsden Jacob Associates. Retrieved from

Murphy, P. (2009) Alcohol does not cause domestic violence. SpeakOutLoud website, 25 Jan. Retrieved from

Murray, C. J., Ezzati, M., Lopez, A. D., Rodgers, A., & Vander Hoorn, S. (2003). Comparative quantification of health risks: conceptual framework and methodological issues. Population Health Metrics, 1(1), 1-20.

Navarro, H. J., Doran, C. M., & Shakeshaft, A. P. (2011). Measuring costs of alcohol harm to others: A review of the literature. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 114(2), 87-99.

NHMRC (2009) Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol. Canberra: Australian Government, National Health and Medical Research Council.

Nutt, D. J., King, L. A., & Phillips, L. D. (2010). Drug harms in the UK: a multicriteria decision analysis. Lancet, 376(9752), 1558-1565.

Pennay, A., Manton, E., & Savic, M. (2014). Geographies of exclusion: Street drinking, gentrification and contests over public space. International Journal of Drug Policy, 25(6), 1084-1093.

People, J. (2005) Trends and patterns in domestic violence assaults, Crime and Justice Bulletin 89. Sydney: NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics & Research., J. (2014) One-punch laws, mandatory minimums and ‘alcohol-fuelled’ as an aggravating factor: implications for NSW criminal law. International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 3(1), 81-106.

Ramstedt, M., Sundin, E., Landberg, J. & Raninen, J. (2014) ANDT-bruket och dess negativa konsekvenser i den svenska befolkningen 2013 (Alcohol, tobacco and drug use and negative consequences in the Swedish population in 2013). Stockholm: STAD project, Report no. 55.

Ramstedt, M., Sundin, E., Synnøve Moan, I., Storvoll, E., Olea Lund, I., Bloomfield, K., Hope, A., Kristjánsson, S. & Tigerstedt, C. (2015) Harm experienced from the heavy drinking of family and friends in the general population: A comparative study of six northern European countries. Substance Abuse Treatment & Research, 9(Suppl. 2), 107-118.

Rolando, S., Törrönen, J. & Beccaria, F. (2014) Boundaries between adult and youth drinking as expressed by young people in Italy and Finland. Young, 22(3), 227-252.

Room, R. (1980) Concepts and strategies in the prevention of alcoholrelated problems, Contemporary Drug Problems, 9, 9-48.

Room, R. (1984) Alcohol and ethnography: a case of problem deflation? Current Anthropology, 25, 169-178. Retrieved from

Room, R. (1989a) Alcoholism and Alcoholics Anonymous in U.S. films, 19451962: the party ends for the `wet generations’. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 50, 368-383.

Room, R. (1989b) The U.S. general population’s experiences with responses to alcohol problems. British Journal of Addiction, 84, 1291-1304.

Room, R. (1990) Recent research on the effects of alcohol policy changes. Journal of Primary Prevention, 11, 83-94.

Room, R. (1996) Alcohol consumption and social harm - Conceptual issues and historical perspectives, Contemporary Drug Problems 23, 373-388.

Room, R. (2000) Concepts and items in measuring social harm from drinking, Journal of Substance Abuse 12:93-111.

Room, R. (2006) Looking towards policy in thinking about alcohol and the heart. In: Elster, J., Gjelsvik, O., Hylland, A. and Moene, K., eds., Understanding Choice, Explaining Behaviour: Essays in Honour of Ole-Jørgen Skog, pp. 249-258. Oslo: Unipub forlag.

Room, R. & Hall, W. (in press) Frameworks for understanding drug use and societal responses. In: A. Ritter, A., T. King, & M. Hamilton (Eds.), Drug Use in Australian Society, 2nd edition. South Melbourne, Vic.: Oxford University Press.

Room, R., Jernigan, D., Carlini-Marlatt, B., Gureje, O., Mäkelä, K., Marshall, M., Medina-Mora, M.E., Monteiro, M., Parry, C., Partanen, J., Riley, L. & Saxena, S. (2002) Alcohol and Developing Societies: A Public Health Approach. Helsinki: Finnish Foundation for Alcohol Studies.

Room, R. & Paglia, A. (2000) Cross-cultural variations in perceived thresholds for physical, mental and substance use-related disabilities. Presented at the 26th Annual Alcohol Epidemiology Symposium, Kettil Bruun Society for Social & Epidemiological Research on Alcohol, Oslo, 5-9 June.

Room, R. & Rehm, J. (2012) Clear criteria based on absolute risk: reforming the basis of guidelines on low-risk drinking. Drug & Alcohol Review, 31(2), 135-140.

Room, R. and Rossow, I. (2001) The share of violence attributable to drinking, Journal of Substance Use, 6, 218-228.

Room, R., Janca, A., Bennett, L.A., Schmidt, L. & Sartorius, N., with 15 others (1996) WHO cross-cultural applicability research on diagnosis and assessment of substance use disorders: an overview of methods and selected results. Addiction 91, 199-220.

Room, R., Ferris, J., Laslett, A.-M., Livingston, M., Mugavin, J. & Wilkinson, C. (2010) The drinker’s effect on the social environment: A conceptual framework for studying alcohol’s harm to others. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 7(4):1855-1871. Retrieved from

Sackett, L. (1977) Liquor and ‘the Law’: Wiluna, Western Australia. In: Berndt, R.M., ed. Aborigines and Change: Australia in the ’70s, pp. 90-99. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.

Savic, M. & Room, R. (2014). Differences in alcohol-related research publication output between countries: a manifestation of societal concern. European Addiction Research 20:319-323.

Schrad, M. L. (2010) The Political Power of Bad Ideas. Networks, Institutions, and the Global Prohibition Wave (Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Seid, A. K., Grittner, U., Greenfield, T. K. & Bloomfield, K. (2015) To cause harm and to be harmed by others: New perspectives on alcohol’s harms to others. Substance Abuse Research & Treatment 9(Suppl. 2), 13-22.

Sulkunen, P. (1979) Abstainers in Finland 1946-1976. A Study in Social and Cultural Transition. Helsinki, Finland: Social Research Institute of Alcohol Studies.

Synnøve Moan, I., Storvoll, E., Sundin, E., Olea Lund, I., Bloomfield, K., Hope, A., Ramstedt, M., Huhtanen, P. & Kristjánsson, S. (2015) Experienced harm from other people’s drinking: A comparison of northern European countries. Substance Abuse Treatment & Research 9 (Suppl. 2), 45-57.

Warr, M. (2000) Fear of crime in the United States: Avenues for research and policy. Criminal Justice, 4(4), 451-489.

Wilkinson, C., Laslett, A.-M., Ferris, J., Living ston, M., Mugavin, J., & Room, R. (2009). The Range and Magnitude of Alcohol’s Harm to Others: Study design, data collection procedures and measurement. Fitzroy: AER Centre for Alcohol Policy Research, Turning Point Alcohol & Drug Centre.

Wittman, F. (1980) Tale of Two Cities: Policies and Practices in the Local Control of Alcohol Availability. Berkeley, California: Social Research Group, Report C-27.

Wolfgang, M. (1958) Patterns in Criminal Homicide. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Nordic Studies on Alcohol and Drugs

The Journal of Nordic Centre for Welfare and Social Issues

Journal Information

IMPACT FACTOR 2017: 0.683
5-year IMPACT FACTOR: 0.752

CiteScore 2018: 0.64

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.313
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.456


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 154 113 6
PDF Downloads 69 57 2