Alcohol-related offences and the drinking environment: II

Criminology Research Council grant ; (38/89)

This report presents the univariate results of a survey of 1,160 persons (651 females and 509 males) aged 16 and over, resident in the Perth Metropolitan area. The study had four main aims: to examine how types of drinking setting are related to different patterns of alcohol use and alcohol related problems; to discover the level of knowledge of laws relating to the sale and consumption of alcohol; to determine people's attitudes to the concept of server responsibility and server liability; and to establish the level of community support for prevention initiatives targeted toward licensed drinking settings.

Of the sample, 74 per cent were classified as drinkers (466 females and 406 males), that is any person who had consumed alcohol in the past three months. When average daily consumption was calculated the overwhelming majority of drinkers (87 per cent of men and 94 per cent of women) had consumed alcohol at low risk levels based on National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines. However, an entirely different picture emerged for the day of highest consumption (34 per cent of males and 21.5 per cent of females drank at high risk levels, while 19.6 per cent of males and 29 per cent of females drank at medium risk levels).

A principal aim of the study was to identify characteristics of drinking settings which are associated with an elevated risk of alcohol related problems. All drinkers in the survey were questioned on the drinking setting for the highest consumption occasion in the previous month, and also the setting on the occasion when harm (i.e. injury, involved in violence, time off work) was experienced. It is noteworthy that similar characteristics were identified as being associated both with 'high risk' consumption of alcohol and/or the actual experience of harm.

By these criteria, 'high risk' drinking was found to be associated with drinking in large, mainly male groups (six or more) in full to overcrowded venues where obviously drunk persons were still able to buy alcohol. Other factors found to be associated with high risk drinking were: buying in rounds, listening to music, dancing, playing bar games, the presence of strippers, and drinking situations where little or no food was eaten. By contrast 'low risk' drinking was found to be associated with drinking in private residences, or in venues where a sit-down meal was eaten (restaurants), and which were only one-quarter to half full. Low risk consumption was also associated with drinking in small groups of family and relatives, or with friends of both sexes, and with venues where there was either no specific entertainment or where watching television or just talking took place.

As many as 24 per cent of the total sample reported that they had experienced problems with pubs or clubs near to their homes. The most frequently reported problems related to litter, noise and offensive behaviour. When asked if they knew where to go to complain or to find out about how to complain, the majority nominated the police or said that they did not know. Less than 2 per cent of respondents knew the Liquor Licensing Authority to be the appropriate authority in this area.

The survey sought to find out the extent of people's knowledge of who commits an offence when juveniles and intoxicated persons are served alcohol on licensed premises. There were some notable differences in levels of knowledge between different categories of respondents with a higher percentage of non-drinkers answering the questions correctly than was the case for drinkers and persons with experience in the sale of alcohol. The most notable finding, however, was that, with one or two exceptions, persons with experience in the sale of alcohol answered fewer questions correctly than did other respondents.

Opinions were sought on the question of server responsibility and liability. While there was overwhelming acceptance that to continue to serve an obviously drunk person increased the risk of an accident, there was little support for the notion that licensees or their employees should be held partly responsible for persons who become intoxicated on licensed premises, or liable when an intoxicated person leaves and causes harm to a third person.

Very high levels of support (>90 per cent) were found for initiatives such as training licensees and barstaff in responsible practices, and stricter enforcement of the licensing law. High levels of support (>70 per cent <90 per cent) were found for initiatives such as alternative transport for intoxicated customers, ID cards as proof of age, increased police presence at licensed premises, allowing police to breath test people in car parks at licensed premises, and for pubs and clubs to offer things such as no smoking areas and a range of healthy food. Moderate levels of support (>50 per cent <70 per cent) were found for raising the drinking age to 21, and for reducing the legal blood alcohol level to 0.05. Little support was found for reduced hours, limiting the size of licensed premises, limiting car parking at licensed premises, alcohol-free entertainment areas, and banning the sale of beer in jugs.

On the question of labelling alcohol containers to make it easier for people to monitor how much they drink, it was found that women were much more likely than men to indicate a preference for labels which show the number of standard drinks. Men were almost equally divided between labels showing percentage alcohol by volume, and labels showing the number of standard drinks.