We're a bunch of bingers

By EMMA CORNFORD

ecornford@dailyexaminer.com.au

EACH weekend in Grafton, it would come as little surprise to take a stroll in to most pubs and find patrons who have over-indulged. But residents may be surprised to learn that more than half of Grafton residents over the age of 18 binge drink, according to a study released by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) this week.

The report is part of the Alcohol Action in Rural Communities project, aimed at identifying and reducing alcohol-related problems in rural NSW.

Project leader from the NDARC, Dr Anthony Shakeshaft, said Grafton was one of 10 towns randomly selected to be a part of the project and all of the towns recorded similar results.

"One of the reasons we're doing this is because there is a higher incidence of alcohol-related harm in rural areas, compared with metropolitan areas. It's certainly a worry," Dr Shakeshaft said.

"There are lots of ideas why (rates of drinking and alcohol-related harm) are so high. It's partly a 'work hard, drink hard' cultural thing, but there are also practical reasons. For instance, if you live out of town and lose it driving at 100km/hr the result is quite different if you live in Sydney and lose it driving home at 50km/hr."

According to the report, 60per cent of respondents knew at least one person who they think drinks too much, while 43per cent said they thought alcohol was a serious problem in Grafton. Twenty-five per cent had experienced problems as a result of someone else's drinking.

Respondents also said that educating students about alcohol-related harm was the best way to promote safer drinking practices.

The data was compiled from a number of health- and crime-related resources as well as a survey mailed to randomly selected residents.

Dr Shakeshaft said the next step would be visiting the communities involved in the study and working with different groups to try and curb the high levels of binge drinking.

"We'll be continuing the work in Grafton over the next three years to try and reduce the levels of harm ... and if those strategies work then we'll lobby the government to roll them out over the state."

Grafton Liquor Accord member and licensee of the Commercial Hotel at Ulmarra, Laurelle Attwill, said although she thought the identified level of binge drinking was 'a bit high' she applauded any move to help patrons be responsible drinkers.

"I believe we need to start at a grass roots level," she said.

"Any education put out there, especially from a health point of view, has got to be a good thing, but it has to be done with respect to the lifestyle people lead. Ultimately it comes down to the individual taking responsibility for themselves."

An open community forum regarding the project will be held at the Grafton Community Centre on Wednesday, March 29 between 5.30pm and 6.30pm.



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