Drink Tank

One more for the road: What loading really looks like

Pre-loading is widely accepted practice among teens and young adults in Australia, but how much do we know about drinking at home in general?

The answer is: not a lot.

VicHealth is interested in how and when people are consuming packaged liquor and in particular, whether they’re combining drinking at home with drinking at the pub, and the health implications of that behaviour.

VicHealth conducted an online survey of 2000 Victorians who had bought liquor from a bottle shop in the previous year about their drinking patterns on a typical night out.

The researchers looked at three types of ‘loading’:

–        pre-loading (drinking alcohol before going to a licensed venue)

–        side-loading (drinking while travelling between venues)

–        post-loading (drinking at home after being out).

Overall, almost half (42%) of our survey participants had done some sort of ‘loading’ on a night out.

One in three (28%) had pre-loaded and one in four had (24%) side-loaded and back-loaded (23%). Amazingly, one in 10 people we surveyed did all three at some point in the past 12 months.

The links between loading of any kind and harm are quite apparent. In fact, people who drink responsibly – that is, four or less standard drinks on an occasion – don’t do any type of loading at all.

Whereas, those who drink more than 20 standard drinks in a session have usually done some type of drinking at home or between venues on top of what they’ll consume at a licensed venue.

So who’s loading? Interestingly, this survey indicates that young women are more likely to pre-load and older men more likely to post-load. We found:

  • Pre-loading was most common among young women aged 18 to 24.
  • Post-loading was favoured among older men aged 45 to 59.
  • Drinking before, after and even in between venues was most common for both genders in the age group of 25 to 39.
  • Older people aged over 60 were highly unlikely to do any loading at all.

Why should we care about loading habits? Because it’s linked to dangerous drinking – the type that can cause accidents, fights, blackouts and regret.

Evidence shows if you take a ‘traveller’, or have a few drinks before or after you’re out, you’re much more likely to suffer verbal or physical abuse or wind up in a situation where you fear for your safety.

We need to ask what it is about our culture that drives and even excuses this sort of excessive drinking.

Why do we feel the need to hit the booze at home before heading out? Why are young women in particular doing this the most? Is it part of the social ritual? Is it a confidence thing? Is it just a matter of price?

And why do older men post-load more often? Perhaps it’s the tradition of the ‘wind-down’ drink, the nightcap.

But the truth is, we can only guess. There are many more questions than answers about what aspects of the Australian lifestyle and culture drive harmful drinking.

Last week, VicHealth and the Victorian Government launched the first phase of a state wide campaign to run over summer, which aims to start a conversation about drinking and the place alcohol has in our culture.

The Name that Point campaign is the first to focus on creating a positive culture to prevent dangerous drinking behaviour and will involve young people aged 16 to 29-years-old in a discussion about their alcohol use.

See the campaign at www.namethatpoint.com

The research was funded by the Victorian Law Enforcement Drug Fund (VLEDF) and commissioned by the Victorian Department of Justice.

Jerril Rechter

Jerril Rechter is the CEO of the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation. She is a World Health Organisation Advisor and a board member of the International Network of Health Promotion Foundations. Jerril holds a Master of Business Leadership from RMIT University.

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