Boys (and girls) behaving badly

A comprehensive report analysing the behaviours of thousands of Australian drinkers was released recently by the National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund (NDLERF), at the 6th Australasian Drug and Alcohol Strategy Conference in Sydney.

In one of many findings, Patron Offending and Intoxication in Night-Time Entertainment Districts (POINTED) reveals that across Australia after 1am, almost a third of the 6500 patrons tested had a blood alcohol reading of above 0.1% with the highest averages in Geelong and Perth.

The massive project saw a research team – led by Associate Professor Peter Miller from Deakin University – interview almost 7000 patrons between November 2011 to June 2012, and conducted almost 900 hours of observation of patrons in pubs and clubs.

Entertainment precincts surveyed included King Street and Prahran in Melbourne, Geelong in regional Victoria, Northbridge in Perth, Kings Cross and Darling Harbour in Sydney and Wollongong in regional NSW.

Professor Miller said: “The report provides a detailed insight into the motivations, and drinking behaviours of thousands of mostly young Australians who were out for a night on the town.”

The surveys were conducted in bars, boutique hotels, beer barns and clubs, with around 6500 patrons agreeing to blood alcohol content (BAC) tests.

Patrons were interviewed about their night, alcohol choices, whether they pre-drank before leaving home, and whether they’d witnessed or had been involved in aggressive or disorderly behavior. They were also asked about their plans for the rest of night including getting home.

An average of 65% reported pre-drinking (or pre-loading) before to going out. In Geelong and Perth that level was 81% and 80% respectively. Surveys indicated the main reason to pre-load was to save money. Consuming five or six drinks before going to the pub indicated a higher risk of heavy alcohol consumption and risky behaviour, such as drink driving.

Likewise the study showed widespread use of high energy drinks- either in an alcohol mix or separate – allowing patrons to drink more, and leading to higher than average blood alcohol readings. Most users averaged 3 high energy drinks by 3 am.

The surveys also found that around one in four people are believed to have used drugs. This study was the first of its kind to use drug swabs to validate people own reports. It found between 1 and 2 people in every five had used drugs, but that one in four was the most likely average across the country. The main drugs admitted to were cannabis, amphetamines and ecstasy.

Chair of the NDLERF Board, NSW Police Detective Superintendent Tony Cooke, said that the findings added invaluable information for police and governments in dealing with offenders in night-time entertainment precincts.

“This survey follows on from the team’s previous work DANTE – Dealing with alcohol related harm and the night-time economy. This study is important as it reflects what patrons are saying and demonstrating and the messages are the same. Alcohol and levels of intoxication remains the significant driver of most harm in the night time economy. The later people drink, the higher are their levels of intoxication. The issue of pre-loading is again borne out as a significant factor in alcohol related harms.”

“This study also raises a number of concerns about the link between those consuming high energy drinks and levels of harm. Combining high energy drinks and late trading hours are also highlighted by this comprehensive report,” Superintendent Cooke said.

Some measures the authors recommend for further investigation include:

* alcohol companies pay for health warning TV advertisements directly after the screening of pro-alcohol ads * ceasing the sales of high energy drinks from 10pm
* the imposition of tighter trading hour restrictions ceasing the sale of alcohol in venues an hour before closing

* increasing the price of alcohol through taxation (preferably based on volume and increasing according to beverage strength) to include pre-packaged alcohol used for preloading, to allow for specific expenditure on measures that ameliorate harm,
* and the banning of two for one, and bulk discount alcohol deals

Organisations involved in POINTED were: Deakin University, Turning Point Drug and Alcohol Centre Melbourne, the Burnet Institute, National Drug Research Institute Curtin University, University of Western Sydney, and University of Wollongong.

The report and executive summary are available here: http://www.ndlerf.gov.au/

NDLERF publications are managed by the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC).

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