Neighborhood disorder, psychological distress, and heavy drinking

Terrence D. Hill, Ronald J. Angel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

212 Scopus citations


Studies show that residents of disadvantaged neighborhoods drink more heavily than residents of more affluent neighborhoods. However, explanations for this association are not well developed. Using data collected from a sample of low-income women with children from Boston, Chicago, and San Antonio, we explore the possibility that perceptions of neighborhood disorder encourage heavy drinking. Drawing on Conger's (Q. J. Stud. Alcohol 17 (1956) 296) tension reduction hypothesis, we propose that the stress of living in a neighborhood characterized by problems with drugs, crime, teen pregnancy, unemployment, idle youth, abandoned houses, and unresponsive police can be psychologically distressing and lead some people to consume alcohol as a means of palliative escape, to regulate feelings of anxiety and depression. In support of the tension reduction hypothesis, we find that the positive association between neighborhood disorder and heavy drinking is largely mediated by anxiety and depression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)965-975
Number of pages11
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2005


  • Alcohol consumption
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Neighborhood disorder
  • USA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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