CAPR is a progressive, active and forward-thinking research centre. Its achievements have enhanced Australia’s profile in international alcohol policy research. We undertake specific studies on policy-relevant questions through collating and reviewing the knowledge base for alcohol policy initiatives, by building capacity to assess, analyse, inform communities, and provide leadership on alcohol policy issues.
Centre staff and projects have recently received several prestigious awards for their research and contributions to the field. On 24 June 2011, CAPR’s project on Alcohol’s harm to others, directed by Anne-Marie Laslett, was awarded the 2011 Excellence in Research Award at the National Drug and Alcohol Awards ceremony. At the same awards ceremony for 2012, Robin Room was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence and Outstanding Contribution to Drug and Alcohol Endeavours. Also in June 2012, at a ceremony at Government House, Melbourne, Michael Livingston was among the four honoured as leading early-career health and medical researchers in Victoria, receiving a Commendation in the Victorian Premier’s Award for Health and Medical Research.
CAPR’s core funding from FARE has been supplemented with funding for specific projects and activities from a number of sources, including competitive grants from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the Australian Research Council, the Australian National Preventive Health Agency, the National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund, the US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth), and contract funding from such agencies as the Colonial Foundation (through the Drug Policy Modelling Program), and state and territorial governments. Through a service agreement distinct from the core Centre funding, FARE also supports a line of work on ‘The Range and Magnitude of Alcohol’s Harm to Others‘. Centre staff have also held fellowships from the Myer Foundation and the Australian Rechabite Foundation and an Australian Postgraduate Award.
With project funding from FARE, CAPR has undertaken a program of work studying Alcohol’s harm to others in Australia, studying harmful effects both on other adults and on children. The information for the study comes from two different windows. One window is the data deriving from the case records of societal response agencies – police, emergency departments, hospitals, etc. – where that data concerns a health or social harm to one person and includes information implicating another’s drinking in the harm. The problems identified through such agency records are often quite severe. The other window is population studies where respondents are asked about adverse effects of others’ drinking on themselves, or adverse effects of their own drinking on others. The problems identified in this way vary in seriousness, including some which are relatively minor, but, as the study showed, impact widely on the Australian population. The study draws on existing health and police register datasets, and also includes a new survey of the Australian adult population conducted in 2008, and reinterviewed in 2011.
With its systematic approach, the Alcohol’s harm to others study has wide implications for alcohol policy discussions, and its findings are regularly cited. The study has also attracted strong international interest, and is serving as a model for work in other countries. With advice from CAPR staff, the World Health Organization is mounting a series of new studies. The international diffusion of adaptations of the Australian study’s methods and instruments will eventually reflect benefits back to Australia, since it will be possible to gain new insights and conclusions by reanalysing Australian data in a comparative frame with other national studies.
Australian guidelines for low-risk drinking patterns in alcohol consumption are periodically revised on the basis of the latest research, and adopted by the NHMRC on recommendation from a Working Group. In 2009, in the most recent revision, the guidelines for the general adult population were for the first time based on an explicit level of risk, and on absolute rather than relative risk, as is usual for environmental and food risk limits. This change was proposed by CAPR staff, and based on analysis jointly by CAPR and a Canadian research group (Centre for Addiction & Mental Health, Toronto). The shift to an absolute-risk basis resulted in the guidelines for men being lowered, while those for women stayed about the same.
In a later study, CAPR staff established that the change in guidelines had an impact on public beliefs about amounts of drinking which could safely be consumed without harming health. A comparison of the same questions asked in population surveys in 2007 (nearly all interviewed before the draft revised guidelines were published) and 2010 showed that there was a significant reduction in the amount of alcohol drinking men thought men could drink without harming their health, while for women the amount stayed about the same. The change for one gender but not the other is the first concrete evidence anywhere of an effect of alcohol guidelines in the general population.
Regulation and sociocultural responses
The implementation and enforcement of alcohol control policies, and their interactions with commercial interests and with drinking subcultures and other groups, are crucial issues in alcohol policy research. CAPR staff have carried out a series of studies in this area, including analyses of trends in public opinion on alcohol policies, of the diffusion and effects of bans on drinking in streets and parks and of individualised bans on alcohol purchasing, and of the reorganisation of liquor licensing enforcement and its consequences. A study presently underway examines the place of alcohol control issues in local governments, and the interactions on alcohol control of local governments with police, licensing and other state agencies.
Research into changes in alcohol availability
Led by Michael Livingston, this wide-ranging set of studies examining the impacts of recent increases in the number of alcohol outlets in Victoria. These studies included an examination of statewide trends, which found sharp and sustained increases in the rates of a range of alcohol-related harms during a period of relative stability in consumption. To develop a more robust sense of the links between availability and alcohol problems, a series of local-level studies were undertaken, exploring whether postcode level changes in alcohol outlet density were linked with changes in alcohol-related harms. These studies found significant relationships between alcohol outlet density and local rates of assault, domestic violence and alcohol-related chronic disease, with packaged liquor outlets linked to the broadest range of harms. The findings have been widely used in liquor licensing hearings around Australia and have been critical in informing policy responses to alcohol availability in Victoria and elsewhere.