National Drug Strategy
National Drug Strategy

The avoidable costs of alcohol abuse in Australia and the potential benefits of effective policies to reduce the social costs of alcohol

6.1 Control of drinking environments

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Sales of alcohol are usually subject to some restriction, for both alcohol to be consumed on site (mostly through licences) and for alcohol to be consumed off the premises. All European Union countries prohibit the sale of alcohol to young people below a determined age in bars and hotels, while one-third of EU countries limit hours of sale (Anderson & Baumberg, 2006). Other forms of limiting access to alcohol include control of the number of alcohol outlets and the development, implementation and enforcement of responsible serving practices. Without enforcement, it is not clear that there would necessarily be responsible beverage service, preventing sales to intoxicated patrons and to minors. Responsible serving policies include training staff to delay or stop service to intoxicated patrons, and to promote low- and non-alcoholic beverages. Licensee codes of conduct, which are voluntary agreements between licensees, police and local councils, can contribute to reductions in alcohol-related violence, but also need to be accompanied by law enforcement.

Chikritzhs et al. (2007) report a robust finding that, from their review of the research literature on the impact of outlet density, assaults are highly correlated with outlet density. As density increases so does the level of assaults. However, the evidence for a link between outlet density and other forms of harm (for example, road crashes, drink driving, and alcohol-related mortality and morbidity) is less strong.

The reduction of opening hours of licensed premises is less problematic and more straightforward to enforce, and is usually related to the prevention or reduction of drunkenness and violence. A West Australian study has shown that an extension in opening hours from midnight to 1 am was accompanied by an increase of 70% in violent incidents (Chikritzhs et al., 1997). It is suggested that the increased problems associated with later trading result from increased alcohol consumption. A New South Wales study reported that assaults at licensed premises were more likely to occur during extended trading periods, most frequently between midnight and 3 am (Briscoe & Donnelly 2003).

Anderson and Baumberg conclude that restricting availability through restrictions on the number and density of outlets as well as days and hours of sale all reduce alcohol-related harm.

While the evidence is strong, it is not possible to quantify and cost the effects of such policies, if implemented.

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