An artisanally crafted blog curated by Cooking Lager for discerning readers of beer bloggery

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

The myth of pre loading

The myth of pre loading or why pre loading is a recognised trend because 380 scouse students filled in a questionnaire.

One of the arguments usually trotted out by the anti cheap booze killjoys is to repeat the myth of preloading. That is to argue that cheap off trade alcohol is irresponsible because it is apparently common place for people these days to drink at home prior to heading for a night on the town. I have long considered this to be a weak and flawed argument, regardless of whether the activity is common or not.

Firstly it attempts to place the blame for drunken behaviour on the first rather than last drink of an evening (god forbid you place it on the actual drunk) and shift it onto supermarkets and away from pubs and bars when all those fighting and puking in the street have clearly being hitting the bars near where the trouble occurred. An attempt to shift responsibility and paint pubs and bars as wholly safe, responsible and controlled environments.

This of course begs the question as to whether there was any anti social drunken behaviour before off trade alcohol was common place. In times when the only place you could get a drink was in a pub, was the country a civilised example of temperance and moderation? I would say not, and point you to the origins of the temperance movement, detailed here. Specifically a quote from temperance campaigner George Sims, the origins of which can be found here,

Enter the public-houses, and you will see them crammed. Here are artisans and labourers drinking away the wages that ought to clothe their little ones. Here are the women squandering the money that would purchase food, for the lack of which the children are dying.

Its pubs he is talking about, not Tesco’s. I have never bought the line that pubs are controlled and responsible environments, for one simple reason, I have been into pubs. Many and varied boozers from middle class tosspot dining pubs to swanky bars to dumpy old man’s boozers to rough places where the punters all have missing ears. You can of course not lay claim that all pubs are the same and be, to quote Star Wars “wretched hives of scum and villainy”, but by equal measure you cannot claim all pubs are responsible and controlled environments. Pub landlords have little control over how much an individual may drink if a punter is being bought drinks by others, nor can they really know whether a drunk entering their premises has been drinking in other pubs or at home. The pub and bar crawl is a common activity in Britain and on any given Friday and Saturday night many people will move between bars. This affords no insight in to how many a punter has had, or where.

The question has to also be asked, if pubs are responsible places, and a drunk enters the premises, what are they doing serving drunks? Serving a drunk is illegal. It cannot be controlled and responsible to sell them more.

I could also explain my own experience of preloading. When I went to university it wasn’t uncommon to have a few drinks in either the halls of residence or later our shared house and head out later. As skint students, we had limited funds but still wanted to go out and attempt to pull a girl, but more likely end up with only a kebab. I noticed a difference in behaviour among friends that didn’t go to university. Rather than live away from home, these friends began work and remained at home. An evening would start off early in a pub and lead onto the late night bar or night club, with no less alcohol consumed. Primarily because a bar was the only communal place to meet and disposable funds were greater. The difference wasn’t related to the price of supermarket booze, but a combination of having a home without parents present and less disposable income. I would say further that the anti social behaviour of my university friends was no lesser or greater than my taxpaying employed not bloody scrounging student friends.

However all this is as they say anecdotal evidence. What we need is peer reviewed proper researched evidence. With the magic of Google I’ve found this. It’s looks like proper scientific research, it smells like proper scientific research, but does it taste like scientific research? No, it tastes like shit. It is a study not of the general population, but of only 380 people, conducted by John Moores University. Basically a questionnaire put out put out by research students and answered by 380 other students. From this they have discovered over half of them preload. From this limited section of the population it is apparently possible to make the following claims.

  1. • More than half of those interviewed usually pre-load with alcohol – that is drink at their own or a friend’s home before leaving for a night’s drinking in a town or city centre.
  2. • On average, women who pre-load consume over a third of their total amount of alcohol for that evening before leaving their own or their friends’ homes. Men who pre-load consume approximately a quarter of their nightly total before leaving home for their night out.
  3. • On average, males and females consumed more than the recommended weekly maximum for an individual’s alcohol consumption (21 units1 for a man and 14 units for a woman) in a single night out. Those who pre-loaded were four times more likely to consume over 20 units on a night out (including pre-loading, and bar and club drinking).
  4. • Those who pre-loaded were also two and half times more likely to have been in a fight when going out in the last 12 months. In fact pre-loading was more strongly associated with being involved in nightlife violence than the total amount of alcohol an individual consumed.

All of this, on the basis of interviewing 380 scouse students. From crap like this it is then possible to get to this

So, if 333-million fewer pints are being sold in the nation’s boozers, where is the increase in liver damage coming from?

The answer is, quite simply, through the recognised trend of pre-loading.

Recognised trend? I’m really sorry but when you look at let’s say the link between smoking and cancer, you had a society where over half the population smoked, and cancer wards that contained a far greater proportion of smokers and with data that covered whole populations you could take correlation and infer causality. You really cannot do that by asking 380 scouse students to fill in a questionnaire. Recognised trend? Recognised trend? By all means believe what you want to believe because it supports your pre existing world view, but really, Recognised trend?

Binge drink Britain, pre loading? Good fucking god. Pubs get your house in order, stop serving drunks and tipping them out into the streets to puke and fight and then and only then can we talk about safe and controlled and responsible environments.


The Beer Nut said...

*Opens tin of lager*

StringersBeer said...

I'm surprised you missed:

Drinking before going out--a predictor of negative nightlife experiences in a German inner city area.
Wahl S, Kriston L, Berner M.
in Int J Drug Policy. 2010 May;21(3):251-4. Epub 2009 Nov 12.

It's probably not a myth, it's probably not (on balance) all that good for you, and it's probably not an exclusively British phenomenon.

That said, I blame all the problems of the world on post-loading i.e. all the happy drunks staying out for an ill-advised couple more, when they should have gone home. The bastards. My last bus home is just past 11. Bastards.

Martyn Cornell said...

Excellent demolition of a very dodgy study, but I'm unconvinced by the second part of your argument: to adopt the slogan of the US gun lobby, pubs don't get people drunk and make them fight, people get themselves drunk. And ten fight.

Professor Pie-Tin said...

You went to university ?
Yeah, and my cock's a kipper too.
A correspondence course from the Wikipedia Polytechnic more like.

Cooking Lager said...

tips his hat at @thebeernut

@Stringer I think it is difficult to use any European study and apply it to the UK without making allowances for differences in culture. But you can try.

@Martyn. The metaphor of guns falls down when you consider the inebriating affects of alcohol. People may kill people, not guns, but you wouldn’t hand a loaded gun to a nutcase postal worker on the brink of going mental. Handing drink over to people whose current inebriated judgement is impaired is different to handing drink over to sober or slightly oiled people. It is illegal to serve drunks with good reason, and it is a law that could do with enforcing.

Martyn Cornell said...

… you wouldn’t hand a loaded gun to a nutcase postal worker on the brink of going mental.

Apart from the fact that he wasn't a postal worker, I believe that's exactly what did happen in Arizona very recently, with dreadfully tragic circumstances. Which is why the guns/alcohol simile doesn't really work. But still, whatever blame can be attached to a barperson selling a drunk more drink, the drunk has to take the final responsibility. Nobody's forcing them to drink it. Or forcing them to act like arseholes.

Phil said...

It's a small sample, but not that small - with a sample size of 380, you've got a 95% chance of the figures being out by no more than 5% either way. What we need to know is how the participants were selected, i.e. who they're representative of.

Cooking Lager said...

@Martyn, if the pub industry wanted to make a case for personal responsibility I'd agree with them, but they don't. They wish to shift the finger of blame to a trade they see as competition. Having said that, you walk into Tesco's drunk they would chuck you out. You walk into many town centre pubs drunk, you'd get a drink.

@Phil if the NHS came out and said they interviewed every kid they treated in A&E with a stomach pump and one overriding correlation was cheap supermarket vodka, I'd accept causality. I don't accept the results of a research PHD asking 380 of his fellow students to be in anyway conclusive enough to be accepted as fact. It is neither geographically, class or occupation diverse. It is 380 students that turned up for the £20 or so offered. I looked for more conclusive research, this was the best one.

Darren said...

I usually blame my hangover on the last drink of the night...

Curmudgeon said...

I'd say it's an exaggeration rather than a myth - but it wouldn't happen if there weren't on-trade venues that young people believe they will enjoy in an already intoxicated state.

Anonymous said...

I remember the high price of drinks in nightclubs being blamed for people getting drunk in the pub beforhand. It was believedthat people drank more than they usually would so that they didn't have to drink so much at the higher nightclub prices. Logically it follows that pre-loading is a symptom of high prices not of low ones.

I know a pub where young people pre-load on quality ale and beer before heading drunk into town where they have less choice and may have to drink cooking lager. Perhaps we should discourage their pre-loading habits by banning quality ale and beer.

Cooking Lager said...

@ Mudge. Point 4 of the research findings

"Those who pre-loaded were also two and half times more likely to have been in a fight when going out in the last 12 months. In fact pre-loading was more strongly associated with being involved in nightlife violence than the total amount of alcohol an individual consumed."

This suggests that preloading itself and not the amount of booze consumed affects your chances of a fight. That 3 pints of Stella at home = fight. Skinful in pub = safe. Exaggerated? Maybe, In the sense of being bollocks.

@Anon Would they still go into town if they could get cooking lager locally?

Séan Billings said...

The very notion of a study examining the habits of students being in any way representative of the population in general is ludicrous.

Why not ask them about their diet and sexual habits and apply that to the rest of the population, while your at it? That way we can all be shocked at how much pot noodle and casual sex the average brit is having.

The pub industry is behaving stupidly and playing into the hands of the neo-prohibitionists every time they try to shift the blame for alcohol related harm onto the off trade. They should stand with them and cry personal choice with personal responsibility.

Serving drunks is a hazard of the on trade, as it can be difficult to gauge some peoples level of inebriation and there is nothing to stop a sober looking patron from purchasing a drink for an inebriated friend.

The off trade suffers from the same weaknesses, only more so, as you can buy in bulk and there is nothing to stop someone from buying alcohol for someone who is drunk or under age.

Irresponsible retailers exists in both on and off trades.

If alcohol related violence is a problem, then make alcohol level an aggravating factor in sentencing for violent crimes. I'm sure there are other ways of increasing the deterrent for this behaviour but the important thing is to blame the violent drunk for the violence. Don't blame the pub, or the nightclub, or the supermarket or the local offie and don't tar the peaceful drunk with the same brush.

david.booth46 said...

Pre-loading is in no way a myth, I know plenty of people who do it and none of them are students. It isn't something new either as my friends and myself did it in our late teens early twenties. The difference now is back then most people would start their night out at about 8 now the norm is 11 since extended opening times. This I believe has contributed to the problem because people have a lot longer to get tanked up before going out. I have been in town centres on the last part of my evening when taxis start bringing in young people for the start of their night out and fights break out before they even go in the first pub.