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02 August 2007
A new study challenges some traditional beliefs about heavy drinking by students and other young people in Britain’s city centres.
The study, funded by the Alcohol and Education Research Council, and led by Dr Simon Moore and Professor Jonathan Shepherd of the Violence & Society Research Group, interviewed and breathalysed 893 drinkers on Friday and Saturday evenings on the streets of Cardiff across twelve months.
Overall, the team found an average blood alcohol level of 0.13 per cent for men and 0.09 per cent for women. But younger people, the unemployed and students all had below-average alcohol levels. Only 12 people below the age of 18 had any evidence of alcohol in their blood. The highest intoxication levels were found in men in their late twenties, while women’s intoxication levels increased with age.
Professor Shepherd said: "These findings challenge the belief that underage drinking is commonplace in city centres and that the youngest drinkers, such as students, are drinking most. Older age groups, particularly employed men in their late 20s, are drinking more heavily."
The researchers also found that more than a third of men and one-sixth of women surveyed had a blood alcohol concentration above the "at risk" level of 0.15 per cent. This is twice the drink-drive limit and is the internationally-recognised level at which risk of injury and ill health rises steeply.
Most of the people surveyed were unable to remember what they had consumed or how much. Drinkers with higher levels of blood alcohol were less likely to recall the evening’s intake. This suggests that previous studies relying on drinkers’ own estimates of consumption have missed the true extent of alcohol misuse.
Even drinkers who could recall how much they had drunk claimed in most cases to have consumed more than the recommended daily alcohol limit (four units for men, three for women). Of these, more than a third of the men and more than half the women claimed to have drunk double the recommended limit – the accepted UK definition of binge drinking.
Professor Shepherd said: "Since Cardiff is one of the safest cities in the country and alcohol-related illness is relatively low, alcohol misuse is likely to be even higher in other city centres. Our research also found that after a certain point, people lose track of the amount they have consumed and therefore need other people, such as police, bar staff or friends to prevent them drinking more. This means substantial resources are being devoted to limiting consumption by heavily intoxicated people. One of the best ways to limit consumption is through raising alcohol prices and this could also provide funds towards the cost of managing binge drinking in city centres."
Dr Moore added: "The majority of people we met on the streets of Cardiff were friendly and thoroughly enjoying their evening out. It is likely that the best way to deal with those who drink excessively and spoil others’ fun will come from changing the way alcohol is served."
The research team surveyed people chosen at random between 11pm and 3am on twenty-four weekend nights on busy streets in Cardiff city centre. The findings have just been published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism.
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