'Pre-loaded' drinkers hit streets

A culture of ''pre-loading'' on alcohol before heading out to pubs and clubs is causing alcohol-related crime, violence, hospitalisation, assault and death.

Australia's largest study into alcohol-related night-life crime has found people are increasingly drinking before they go out to avoid high alcohol prices in venues.

People who drank between six and 10 standard drinks before going out compared with those who did not were twice as likely to get into trouble, the researchers found.

Some had consumed more than 25 standard drinks before even reaching the venue, quadrupling their risk of harm. Police and public health experts say the drinking culture is out of control and laws must be changed to stop risky drinking.

Increasing the price of alcohol sold in liquor stores by introducing a levy on packaged drinks would curb the problem, said Deakin researcher and lead author of the study Peter Miller.

''We spent a lot of time trying to think of other ways to deal with pre-drinking and simply couldn't,'' Professor Miller said.


''There are many people drinking around the corner from the pub, in their cars or in their homes, and it is so difficult for venues to detect that unless someone is very obviously intoxicated when they arrive.''

The results of the nationwide study come after ACT Policing joined the Trans-Tasman crackdown on alcohol-related crime and violence, Operation Unite, over the weekend.

Focusing on the entertainment precincts of Civic, Belconnen and Tuggeranong, the ACT operation involved 80 compliance checks on licensed premises and resulted in four arrests for assault. Police also attended 14 disturbances, many the result of excessive alcohol consumption.

The study also recommended restricting trading hours across all venues rather than imposing lock-outs, which Professor Miller said would stop people from drinking all night and in one place. The ''Dealing with Alcohol-related Harm and the Night-time Economy'' study compared the effectiveness of alcohol-related crime prevention measures between 2005 and 2010 through licensing regulation in Newcastle and voluntary programs run in Geelong, Victoria. These included locking patrons out of clubs after 1.30am; banning alcohol shots after 10pm; limiting drink sales; and the use of ID scanners. Hospital and police data was also reviewed while almost 4000 pub and club patrons were interviewed. Professor Miller said assaults in Newcastle had dropped during the study, but stayed the same in Geelong, as the measures implemented there were voluntary.

''They were more focused on reducing violent crime after people were already drunk, which is far too late.'' The tragic impact of alcohol has been seen in high-profile cases in Sydney, with the death in July of 18-year-old Thomas Kelly, who was king hit in an unprovoked attack in Kings Cross.

Two weeks ago, NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said he was ''appalled'' and ''frightened'' by the number of drink-related fatalities, injuries and crimes in NSW.

The chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund, Detective Superintendent Tony Cooke, said there had been a shift in drinking culture, contributing to the violence.

''Culturally we've got to have a look at why we're going out to get sauced-up, rather than to enjoy the night out,'' he said.

''Drinking levels are clearly increasing, pre-loading is a bigger issue, venues are open later than they used to be and an issue for us all to look at is off-license premises and the sale of pre-packaged liquor.''