Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The sober facts about booze

While the temperance union (now including Kevin Rudd) wallows in moral panic about binge drinking, the Australian Bureau of Statistics tells a more sober story:

There's lies, damned lies, and then there's statistics. Beware tabloid hysteria. Meanwhile the Government, at the stroke of a pen, can appear to be 'doing something' without spending a dollar.


Anonymous said...

Are these binge drinking stats? Looks like total consumption to me...

Anonymous said...

There is wide, international agreement that drinking patterns associated with rapid intoxication, such as ‘binge drinking’ carry with them potential for social and physiological harm.

What exactly constitutes a binge and how best to define it in both quantitative and qualitative terms continues to be the source of considerable disagreement.

Thresholds used are arbitrary; no consensus exists on the number of drinks considered a binge
Alcohol content of drinks varies, especially between international definitions of ‘standard drinks’
Length of time in an ‘occasion’ or ‘sitting’ is not defined
A broad range of definitions and usage exists around the term ‘binge’, particularly in Anglophone countries. For example, the clinical definition of a ‘binge’ differs from that used in the social sciences, and differs yet again from that used colloquially. Within the field of epidemiology there exists a disparity regarding the amount of alcohol that needs to be consumed in order to qualify as a binge. One of the commonly used thresholds for binge drinking is five or more drinks for men and four or more for women per occasion. This is often reduced to ‘five or more drinks’, regardless of gender and obtains in many international reports and studies.

The Editor said...

Steven Noble of course has a point. But to read the tabloid hysteria you would think the whole nation is drowning in vomit.

I'm not that worried about 'binge drinking'. I used to do it when I was young. So did all my friends. I can remember the kitchen floor of our student house back in the '70s being awash with beer from the keg we had installed. We soon got over it!

And of course, the underage aspect of it is more down to parenting than late-night venues -- ask Corey Delaney!

Anonymous said...

Amid growing claims of a drinking epidemic, Brisbane's Princess Alexandra Hospital said yesterday the number of drunken louts turning up injured had quadrupled in the past five years.

Emergency Department director Phillip Kay said the main offenders were young men aged 17 to 25, although some were as young as 14.

"We see about 5000 every year, most of which come in Friday and Saturday nights," Dr Kay said.

"The part of their brain that recognises danger doesn't develop until they're 25."

The Australian National Council on Drugs this week estimated more than 30,000 15-year-olds and one in five 16 and 17-year-olds binge drink every week.

While Mr Rudd has promised action on alcohol and drug abuse, describing the problem as "out of control", Mr Costello wants his 2020 summit session on strengthening communities, supporting families and social inclusion to find practical solutions.

He has flagged proposals to wind back the number of bars operating in Australia and their opening hours, while revising the operating rules for liquor outlets.

What we know is that alcohol does far more damage than any illegal drug in Australia," Mr Costello said.

His suggestions yesterday won the backing of Curtin University's National Drug Research Institute senior researcher Tanya Chikritzhs, who has just released the results of a study linking new liquor licences with increased assaults.

Her study found an average new city hotel would increase the number of domestic violence assaults in the surrounding area by 17 a year, while a new metropolitan liquor store would see an extra eight assaults a year.

And Dr Chikritzhs said those figures were probably just the tip of the iceberg, given the nation's under-reporting of domestic violence.

"The bottom line is the more licences you have, the longer trading hours they have, the more problems that will occur," she said.

"That is the consistent, unavoidable conclusion that research has come to in this domain."

In Queensland, the State Government has responded to concerns about violent teenage parties and alcohol-fuelled Schoolies events with plans to fine parents up to $3000 for "recklessly" supplying alcohol to their under-age children.

Anonymous said...

Increased domestic violence an unexpected consequence of new liquor licences; New licensing model can predict impact on alcohol-related violence

New research has confirmed that an increase in the number of liquor outlets (hotels and/or bottle shops) is associated with an increase in alcohol-related violence and assault in the surrounding area. An unexpected finding, however, is that, regardless of the type of new liquor outlet, most of this increased violence occurs in private homes rather than at licensed premises.

The research, from the National Drug Research Institute (NDRI) at Curtin University in Perth, involved examining the effect of liquor licence approvals on alcohol related problems. Researchers have created a model that can predict the likely effect of granting a new liquor licence anywhere in Australia on alcohol-related assaults, hospitalisations, deaths and road crashes.

Chief Investigator Dr Tanya Chikritzhs (pronounced Sik-rit-sees) said the research demonstrated that the decisions of liquor licensing authorities had a significant impact on the health and safety of communities.

"The model developed in this study allows us, for the first time, to predict the social impacts of any new liquor outlet anywhere in Australia," said Dr Chikritzhs. "Liquor licensing authorities should be obliged to consider these impacts when deciding whether to grant a new licence."

Dr Chikritzhs added that a national approach to gathering alcohol sales data (currently only collected in Western Australia (WA) and the Northern Territory) was the key to applying the liquor licensing model Australia-wide.

Based on figures from WA, the study found that an additional 'average'* hotel in metropolitan Perth would increase the number of domestic violent assaults by 17 a year, and a new 'average' metropolitan liquor store would see an extra 8 assaults in private homes. If that liquor store was located in WA's Wheatbelt, the number of domestic assaults would increase by 29 each year.

"A common perception is that most alcohol-related violence happens in and around licensed premises, but the reality is that much of it goes on behind closed doors either following a night out at the pub or after drinking takeaways at home. We can assume that the domestic assault figures in this study are just the tip of the iceberg because many alcohol-related violent incidents, particularly domestic, go unreported," Dr Chikritzhs said.

The study was funded by the National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund (NDLERF), which funds research for the purpose of preventing and reducing the harmful effects of licit and illicit drug use in Australian society. NDLERF supports research that: leads to evidence-based practice in drug law enforcement; is experimental and innovative; and enhances strategic alliances between areas of law enforcement, human service providers and research agencies.

The Editor said...

'Anonymous' does not seem to be able to respond to developments in a debate. The research referred to established no causal link between outlets and incidents -- just a correlation.

For a start, how are the under-aged drinkers getting their alcohol? Presumably not even from outlets as they are under age. If so, why are the two things always mentioned together?

I have suggested other causes, too, which are not researched because they are on the 'wrong' agenda. But anonymous just keeps posting media releases that posit the same fallacy.

No doubt they reinforce anonymous's world view, so why look deeper? But thanks for the input.

Anonymous said...

The Relationship Between Alcohol Availability and Injury and Crime

There is a growing body of research that shows what many people already know: areas with more alcohol outlets (a business or location where alcoholic beverages are sold) tend to experience more alcohol-related injury and crime. Incidents of sexual and other assaults, domestic violence, child abuse, youth violence, homicides, alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes, and drunk driving have all been shown to increase when the availability of alcohol increases.

Concern among local communities generally focuses on alcohol availability from commercial outlets, such as bars and retail stores. But public availability of alcohol, or alcohol that is served at public events and in public places such as parks, can be a significant source of alcohol in the community and should also be of concern.

The Facts

The number of alcohol outlets is related to violent assaults. One study showed that each additional alcohol outlet was associated with 3.4 additional assaults per year. Scribner, R., Mackinnon, D. & Dwyer, J.: “The risk of assaultive violence and alcohol availability in Los Angeles County.” American Journal of Public Health (85) 3: 335-340. 1995.
Alcohol outlet density has been shown to be the single most important environmental factor explaining why violent crime rates are higher in certain areas of the city than in others. LaBouvie, E. & Ontkush, M.:”Violent crime and alcohol availability: relationships in an urban community.” Journal of Public Health Policy 19(3):303-318. 1998.
There are a greater number of alcohol-related injury crashes in cities with higher outlet densities. A 1% increase in outlet density means a .54% increase in alcohol-related crashes. Thus, a city of 50,000 residents with 100 alcohol outlets would experience an additional 2.7 crashes for each new outlet opened. Scribner, R., Mackinnon, D. & Dwyer, J.: “Alcohol outlet density and motor vehicle crashes in Los Angeles County cities.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol (44): 447-453, July 1994.
Blocks that have more bars have higher crime rates for murder, rape, assault, robbery, burglary, grand theft and auto theft. Adding one bar to a block would result in 3.38 crimes committed on that block in a year. It would increase the risk of murder taking place on that block by 5%, and increase the risk of having a violent crime of any type by 17.6%. Runcek, D. & Maier, P. “Bars, blocks and crimes revisited: linking the theory of routine activities to the empiricism of ‘hot spots.’ “ Criminology (29) 4: 725-753. 1991.
The level of drinking, drinking participation, and participation in binge drinking are all significantly higher among all college students when a greater number of outlets licensed to sell alcoholic beverages exist near campus. This is particularly true for underage drinking. Chaloupka, F. & Wechsler, H. “Binge drinking in college: the impact of price, availability and alcohol control policies.” Contemporary Economic Policy, vol. xiv, October 1996.
Freedom from unwanted interruptions in one’s house or place of business are fundamental legal rights. A basic tenet of law is the right to the “quiet enjoyment” of one’s own property. High densities of alcohol outlets cause noise, traffic, loitering, and other disturbances of the public peace. Preventing Problems Related to Alcohol Availability: Environmental Approaches. U.S. DHHS Pub No. (SMA) 99-3298.
Policy Solutions
Communities can influence both alcohol availability and consumption, and thereby mitigate related problems, by controlling the number of alcohol outlets, regulating the behavior of current outlets, and even closing problem outlets. These measures, along with others such as stricter enforcement on underage sales of alcohol and responsible alcohol service training, are part of a broader strategy that communities can implement to prevent and reduce threats to the health and safety of their residents from alcohol abuse.

The Editor said...

I wish Anonymous would condense his/her comments. They are so long I might have to start moderating this thread even though I believe in free speech.

One point: Anon posted:

'Alcohol outlet density has been shown to be the single most important environmental factor explaining why violent crime rates are higher in certain areas of the city than in others. LaBouvie, E. & Ontkush, M etc.

I know for a fact this is not so in Sydney. That's one of the points I keep making, but anonymous mustn't be listening. Many of the other results of the research quoted also do not apply (I have been watching crime stats here for years). Effectively, Anon is just making the same point over and over and ignoring my arguments.

I remain highly distrustful of this research, all commissioned to an existing agenda.