A CULTURE of downing alcohol before going out is significantly contributing to violence and harm in pubs and clubs, Australia's largest study into alcohol-related nightlife crime has found.
And the most effective way to deal with it is to increase the price of alcohol by introducing a levy on packaged drinks, Peter Miller, a Deakin University researcher and author of the study, says.
"We spent a lot of time trying to think of other ways to deal with pre-drinking and simply couldn't," Associate Professor Miller, from the School of Psychology, said.
"There are many people drinking immediately before approaching the door of venues, either 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."
Professor Miller said interviews with more than 4000 patrons revealed those who drank before going out more frequently reported also being involved in alcohol-related violence and harm.
"The relationship was strong,’’ he said.
"We didn’t differentiate between those who initiated the violence and those who were victims of it, but we often found that it took two to tango."
People who drank between one and five standard drinks before going to a venue were twice as likely to experience harm than those who didn’t drink beforehand, while those who reported drinking 25 or more standard drinks prior to going out were 4.5 times more likely to be involved in violence.
The other measure the study found to be most effective in reducing alcohol-related violence was restricting trading hours across all venues rather than imposing lockouts.
The study, titled Dealing with Alcohol-related Harm and the Night-time Economy, compared the effectiveness of alcohol-related crime prevention measures put in place between 2005 and 2010 through licensing regulation in Newcastle and voluntary programs run in Geelong.
Interventions analysed included locking patrons out of clubs after 1.30am; closing clubs by 3.30am; banning alcohol shots after 10pm; limiting the number of drinks being served (as mandated by licence conditions in Newcastle) and the introduction of ID scanners; improved communication between venues and police and education campaigns (voluntary in Geelong).
Researchers also did a comprehensive review of police and hospital data.
“We found that the number of assaults in Newcastle dropped significantly during the study period while the interventions in Geelong had no impact,” Professor Miller said.
"The measures implemented in Geelong were voluntary and were not focused on alcohol consumption, they were more focused on reducing violent crime after people were already drunk which is far too late."
Precincts plagued by drunken violence, such as Sydney's Kings Cross, could learn important lessons from the survey, Professor Miller said.
"They should not rely on lockouts, which substantially affected the smaller bars by making them close earlier, but they are the venues we want to be flourishing.
"Lockouts benefit bigger venues because you're forcing patrons to choose a bar that stays open until 5am and stay there drinking all night, getting more and more drunk.
"Instead we need mandatory closing hours that apply to all venues across the board."
It was now up to governments to resist alcohol industry influence and implement those strategies proven by the survey to work, he said.
"I'm not confident they will do that, but I'm hopeful," he said.
"We managed to beat the tobacco industry, even if that took about 40 years."