Drinking culture goes under the microscope

Nuray Buyucek’s research findings are informing the debate around the Queensland government’s proposed alcohol management laws.
Nuray Buyucek’s research findings are informing the debate around the Queensland government’s proposed alcohol management laws.

A Griffith University researcher has taken a study of alcohol consumption to new lengths, going under cover in a Brisbane bar to monitor the drinking behaviour of more than 600 customers.

Nuray Buyucek, a PhD candidate at Griffith Business School, faked phone calls and surreptitiously pursued drinkers around the pub to ensure the rigour and accuracy of her research project at a Fortitude Valley bar.

The preliminary findings of her study show drinking in rounds significantly speeds up the rate of consumption, as does drinking through a straw. It also reveals reluctance among drinkers to have a glass of water during an alcohol drinking session, and a lack of visible water stations to encourage this behaviour.

Nuray’s research findings also inform the current debate around the Queensland government’s proposed alcohol management laws which are expected to be brought to parliament later this year. The Palaszczuk plan would see a 1am pub and club lockout, a 3am end to the supply of alcohol and a ban on shots after 12pm.

“During my research I learned that drinking is a very complex issue,” Nuray Buyucek said. “Decisions are being made that will impact on licensed premises and the liquor industry, and related problems may not be solved simply with changes to trading hours.”

“There is further investigation to be carried out in this space, and our study shows changes to serving practices may have a more direct impact on the amount of alcohol consumed.”

Nuray.wideNuray Buyucek, a Social Marketing @ Griffith researcher, led a team of eight during her month-long study. During the research period, a total of 530 complete cases were recorded, where the drinking customer was observed without break from the moment they entered the premises to the moment they departed.

The researchers spent more than 190 hours on the premises, with two-thirds of the observations taking place at night-time. They observed 384 males and 220 females. The average total time a customer was observed was 81 minutes.

The data showed that about one fifth of people drink in rounds which significantly impacts the quantity of drinks consumed. Males drinking in rounds consumed 3.2 drinks on average compared with 2.2 for males who did not buy drinks in rounds.

Drinking with a straw significantly shortened drinking time. The average duration of a drink without a straw was 28 minutes which came down to 24 minutes when a straw was used.

The study also showed that as the serving quantity gets bigger, people drink more. For instance, people who buy wine in a bottle are more likely to drink more compared to people buying wine in glasses.

“Our aim is to develop strategies and interventions to reduce alcohol drinking on premise while working with licensed premises to make sure profits aren’t damaged. No one else has carried out research of this kind before.”

At the moment the main source of data is based on self-reports including surveys and interviews. Both methods rely on memory and recollections of people who have been drinking.

“It’s not unusual for someone to remember the first two or three drinks but to lose count after that. The collection of data is affected by a memory bias. This means that surveys may not be reflecting real alcohol drinking figures,” Nuray said.

“Observations allow us to measure actual behaviour and do not rely on memory as occurs in surveys. In fact, there is not much data about how many drinks are consumed in licensed premises.

“Further, we know that pre-drinking before going out is very common and our preliminary findings suggest that, on top of pre-drinking, people also drink approximately 2.3 drinks per occasion in one licensed premise.

“Disregarding pre-loading and assuming alcohol is only consumed on licensed premises is not an answer to the problem. This is a cultural issue with many dimensions that cannot be simply solved by imposing a lockout.”

Nuray is now investigating options to extend the study, to incorporate an examination of drinking behaviour in a range licensed premises in Brisbane and Queensland.