Risky drinking causes considerable community concern in Australia and internationally, particularly when it involves young people consuming alcohol in the night-time economy or NTE (Miller, et al., 2012). In Australia, one in four young people (aged between 15 and 24 years) reported that in the past year they had consumed alcohol, at levels associated with short-term harm, on a weekly to monthly basis. More than 40 percent of young people reported having consumed more than 20 standard drinks on a single occasion during that time (Chikritzhs & Pascal 2004; Victorian Drug and Alcohol Prevention Council 2010). This trend is concerning given that estimates indicate that up to 47 percent of alcohol-related deaths can be attributed to single sessions of heavy episodic drinking (Stockwell et al. 1998).
In 2004–05 the estimated cost of alcohol to the community was $15.6 billion, including crime, violence, treatment costs, loss of productivity and premature deaths (Collins & Lapsley 2008). Alcohol consumption has been shown to increase the likelihood and extent of aggressive and violent behaviours and to reduce an individual’s cognitive and verbal capacity to resolve conflict, thereby increasing the likelihood of involvement in arguments or fights (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2007). Furthermore, alcohol at or more than 0.05 blood alcohol concentration (BAC) significantly increases the potential for fatal car accidents (Drummer et al. 2003). For these reasons, alcohol places a significant burden on emergency services personnel, including police, paramedics and hospital staff.
Research has consistently shown that violence and harm in late-night entertainment areas peaks between midnight and 3 am. It is most frequent on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights (Chikritzhs & Stockwell 2002, 2007; Ireland & Thommeny 1993). A number of issues have been identified that may exacerbate levels of short-term harm associated with risky drinking, including: excessive alcohol consumption at licensed premises, consumption in public areas, and a lack of transport and security in entertainment precincts (Graham & Homel 2008). Factors which increase risky drinking and associated harms in licensed premises include: patron demographics and mix; levels of comfort, boredom and intoxication; promotions encouraging rapid alcohol consumption; and the behaviour of security staff. Violence has also been shown to be associated with poor management and policy, lax police surveillance, lack of transport options for patrons, and inappropriate bureaucratic controls (Graham & Homel 2008; Homel et al. 2004; Hughes 2007).
While previous research has explored the role that factors such as transport, environment and security have on harms associated with heavy episodic drinking, little is known about how consumption practices affect harm. For example, it is not known what levels of BAC are associated with risky behaviour and experience of harm, nor which drinking practices (for example, pre-loading or consuming shots, energy drinks or ‘alcopops’) are associated with increased harm in the night-time environment. Further, it is also not known how duration of drinking episode, intoxication levels upon entering and leaving licensed venues and venue characteristics (ie venue type, venue closing time, venue capacity) impact on experiences of harm.
This study investigated: