Before I get to the significant findings from the DANTE (Dealing with alcohol-related harm and the night-time economy) study that was recently published here in Australia by researchers from Deakin University, I want to make a general observation regarding the effects of alcohol and how there seems to be a great variability in how alcoholic disinhibition plays out in the brain.
Case in point: I used to go to pubs in Germany regularly(read: almost daily) for 20 years before I moved to Australia. I never once encountered a threatening situation, I never once witnessed or was involved in any kind of violence or assault. There was the one night when a mentally ill person pointed a gun at me in a pub because he wanted my seat at the bar, but that situation was swiftly deescalated, and that person wasn’t drunk. Germans tend to get sad and melancholic, and passionate and sometimes loud when they are drunk, but they don’t tend to bash each others’ head in. Over here the effect of alcohol on the brain seems to be entirely different. Almost every night I go out anywhere in an Australian city there will be brawls, there is dumb alpha-male behaviour to be witnessed, there are situations where you don’t know if you will get hit in the face or glassed. Always be prepared for drunk youth crossing the road in the middle of the night, throwing bottles or stones, attacking people walking their dog with metal poles, and the like. I don’t know why there are so obvious differences in how people react to alcohol intoxication, maybe it’s genetic or cultural. I mean, the French drink as much as the Irish, but when was the last time you heard of a pub brawl in Nantes or Montpellier?
But now to the DANTE study. In it, researchers essentially compared a voluntary vs mandatory approach to limiting access to alcohol, whereby the city of Geelong adopted a voluntary approach of education, improved communication with police, ID scanners etc, whereas in the city of Newcastle there were curfews(10pm) and number limits(no more than 4 drinks at a time) imposed on the sale of shot and mixer drinks.
In a nutshell, Newcastle’s approach worked, and Geelong’s didn’t. Now you may ask, what’s the harm in drinking alcohol? Here’s a summary:
The estimated cost of alcohol to the community is $15.3 billion including crime, violence, treatment costs, loss of productivity and premature deaths in 2004–05 (Collins & Lapsley 2008). Alcohol has also been identified as a factor in about three quarters of assaults and offensive behaviour on the street (Buss et al. 1995). Similarly, alcohol at or over 0.05 g/100 mL (%) was found to be present in 29.1 percent of all drivers in fatal accidents in Australia (Drummer et al. 2003). High-risk alcohol consumption causes more than 400 road deaths and 7,700 serious road injuries requiring hospitalisation each year, at an estimated cost to the community of more than $1.34 billion (National Drug Research Institute 2000).
Most (72% or 310,000) men who were physically assaulted by another male said that the perpetrator had been drinking or taking drugs, and 28 percent said that they themselves had done so (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2007). Almost half (47% or 92,300) of the women physically assaulted and most (84% or 50,600) of women who were sexually assaulted by a man said that the perpetrator had been drinking or taking drugs (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2007).
Mandatory lockouts, curfews and limits on mixer drinks and shots led to a significant reduction in alcohol-related harm(presentations to Emergency Departments, assault, accidents) in Newcastle, while the voluntary measures in Geelong showed no such effect, or only a very small one.
Now as for this pre-loading:
Wells et al. point out that pre-drinking is depicted, celebrated and even glorified in numerous internet bulletins and blogs, YouTube videos and Facebook entries of young adults (Wells et al. 2009). But pre-loading and side-loading have been associated with increased risk of intoxication, violence and unwanted sexual encounters (Borsari et al. 2007; Hammersley & Ditton 2005; Hughes 2007; Wells et al. 2009). Pre-loading is also something different from simply drinking earlier in the night. Previous studies have found that pre-loading and drinking games appear to be distinct activities (Borsari et al. 2007) and that they produce greater harm than simply drinking the same amount of alcohol in venues earlier in the evening.
The amounts of alcohol consumed in this ritual are quite staggering, more than a third of respondents admitted to drinking up to 11 standard drinks before going out, and some up to 25 standard drinks. That’s some preloading! And of course, that makes it difficult for venue operators to filter out drunks, since these people are already arriving in an intoxicated state, but one that may not yet be obvious. The kids do this to save money, and so the suggestion from this study is to go to the booze retailers and slap a levy on them to increase their prices, so that there is less of an incentive to preload, an activity that is clearly linked to increased likelihood of being involved in violence, brawls and the like.
I don’t know about this. I’m always cautious when it comes to punishing a majority for the deeds of a minority, and increasing my and Joe Blow’s booze prices just because some young Australians(including a large number of young females) tend to binge and preload doesn’t seem the right way to go about this. But at the same time, as the example of Geelong shows, appeals to reason and voluntary measures are obviously not working either.
Personally, I would have no problem with an alcohol ban for under-25s. These are the ones who most often kill themselves and others in car accidents, they are the perpetrators and victims of most alcohol-related violence, and they are the ones who are victims to unwanted sexual encounters and accidental falls from Gold Coast balconies. This all can be prevented or significantly reduced. If only politicians had the guts to do it.