“Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” may be a conflation of one or two bible verses, but seems to sum up the findings of this month’s Illinois Violent Death Reporting System (IVDRS) Data Brief “The Role of Alcohol in Homicide: 2015” eerily well.
This Data Brief reports that in nearly 26% of the 654 homicides that occurred in the counties of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Peoria in 2015, the victims tested positive for alcohol. These counties account for 79% of all homicides in Illinois. Victims who were 45-54 years old were the most likely to test positive for alcohol; victims aged 20-24 years were the least likely. In addition, a victim who tested positive for alcohol was much more likely to be killed by a sharp instrument or other weapon than a firearm. Furthermore, victims who tested positive for alcohol were much more likely to be Hispanic. There was no difference in the proportion who tested positive for alcohol between male and female homicide victims.
In July, the IVDRS Data Brief that focused on homicides in Chicago revealed a different pattern. The July Data Brief did not present information on whether or not the 512 homicide victims in 2015 tested positive for alcohol, but, in general, the patterns of homicide were strikingly different. The July Data Brief revealed that young African-American men, 20-24 years old, were most likely to be victims; they were overwhelmingly likely to be killed by a firearm. Men were more than ten times more likely to be killed than women.
So what do these seemingly disparate findings tell us? Perhaps, only the obvious: violence is complicated. There will not be one solution. Your age, ethnicity, sex and where you live will inform the strategies we apply to decrease violence. For example, for middle age folk, improving access to alcohol abuse treatment is a strategy to consider for reducing homicides. For young people, reducing access to firearms is likely to be an effective intervention.
Epidemiology is the study of the distribution of diseases or injuries in a population which can help identify risk factors (and protective factors) for a particular condition. However, it is important to understand that risk is not destiny. Nevertheless, after reading this month’s brief, as we enter the stressful holiday season, when we often spend time with relatives one usually avoids, it may be prudent to not drink too much and keep sharp objects out of reach. (Actually, a good strategy no matter what the season.)