It’s time to drink right

Drinking is embedded in Australia’s social culture, however there is little education around responsible alcohol consumption. Lucy Clark joined students at UQ’s St Leo’s and Grace colleges to see how this is changing.

From backyard barbecues to nights out on the town, drinking is embedded in Australian culture.

However, despite drinking playing a significant role in our social lives, there is a lack of education around responsible alcohol consumption.

Alcohol affects people differently, and many simply lack the ability to discern how drunk they are.

As a 21-year-old myself, this rings true.

From the time you turn 18, you learn to drink in a group and to push yourself to the brink – because that’s when you have the most fun, right?

However, five beers and three tequila shots later, you are vulnerable and have little control. And that’s a best case scenario.

In an effort to address the problem of binge drinking among young people and to promote responsible drinking among its students, UQ’s St Leo’s College and Grace College have initiated Drink Right, an educational program around alcohol.

To launch the program, Inspector Corey Allen, Commanding Officer of the Queensland Police Academy, was invited to speak to the students (and I was invited to tag along for the ride).

He began by looking at the issue of pre-loading – the consumption of large quantities of alcohol before ‘going out’.

This is an increasingly popular trend among young people and is due to a number of reasons including to socialise, save money and to feel more relaxed.

It’s an issue that Inspector Allan knows all about.

To raise people’s awareness of their level of intoxication, Inspector Allen has been conducting research into the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of revellers before, during and at the point of departure from a night out.

Having breathalysed and surveyed more than 3000 people, Inspector Allen found that 80 per cent of revellers were pre-loading before a night out.

More worrying, however, was the fact that the majority of these participants were unable to accurately guess their BAC level.

To provide us with a guideline as to how much each drink affects us, Inspector Allen asked us to consume two standard drinks – beer, cider, wine and champagne was provided – and to take a breath test.

Excited to see our results, we had our drinks and eagerly lined up to be breathalysed.

The results were interesting: despite having had the same amount to drink, our BAC levels were incredibly diverse.

Friends that usually go “drink-for-drink” were presenting entirely different readings – with some at 0.02 and others at 0.05 – providing an excellent example that alcohol affects each of us differently.

I showed a reading of 0.046. I’m a relatively small person, however I was surprised by the effect that only two drinks had on me – almost pushing me over the legal driving limit.

After everyone had been breathalysed, Inspector Allen asked those who wished to keep drinking to continue checking their BAC level until they reached the 0.07.

During the study, Inspector Allen found that on average, 0.07 was reported to be the BAC level at which revellers felt at their best, while remaining in control and not exposing themselves to risks - such as getting in a fight, blacking out, developing an alcohol problem or waking up with a stranger.

After passing the 0.07 BAC level, the level of control that one holds was found to decline and the risk of an incidence occurring increased exponentially.

Eager to see how this “golden” BAC level felt, we each grabbed another drink.

Once finished, we again lined up to be breathalysed. Most of us had reached a 0.06 BAC level.

As everyone sipped on another drink and stood around with their friends, there was a buzz in the room. As Inspector Allen had said, everyone was feeling more comfortable and relaxed.

We were experiencing the 0.07 BAC level and we were enjoying it.

Best of all, there was no stumbling, no smashing glasses,and no obscene yelling – we were in control and were aware of exactly how intoxicated we were.

This was empowering.

As young adults, there’s a huge gap in our knowledge when it comes to responsible drinking.

We need to know how much each drink affects us.

We need to know that you can have a good time while remaining in control.

And, most importantly, we need to know when it’s time to stop.