Australia's use of "standard drink" information on alcohol labels is intended to help adults drink responsibly. But a new study suggests that many college students may use the labels to get drunk at the cheapest cost.
Australian guidelines issued in 2002 by the National Health & Medical Research Centre recommend that men have no more than four alcoholic drinks per day, while women should have no more than two. However, guidelines vary from country to country plus studies from difference countries have found that many people do not know what constitutes a standard alcoholic drink.
To help clear the confusion, Australia now requires that alcohol labels state the number of standard drinks contained within a bottle. There has been debate about whether to institute similar regulations in the US.
More booze for your bucks
But in the new study, researchers found that college students often use this standard-drink labelling to get the most alcohol for their dollar.
In six focus-group discussions with undergraduates at one university, the researchers found that most students read the standard-drink labelling when buying alcohol. But they largely used the information to pick the strongest drink, and get drunk faster and more cheaply.
The findings suggest that if used in a vacuum, standard-drink labelling can have the unintended effect of aiding young people in drinking irresponsibly, the researchers report in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review.
Labelling not all bad
The study does not suggest, however, that the labelling itself does no good, according to lead researcher Sandra C. Jones, and Parri Gregory, both from the University of Wollongong in Australia.
"Standard-drink labelling is very helpful for people who want to drink within the recommended limits," Jones told Reuters Health.
The fact that some college students misuse that information, she said, implies that "if we want to reduce alcohol-related harms in young people, we need more than just labels."
For example, Jones noted, a consistent association between alcohol content and price - with price tags climbing in proportion to alcohol concentration - might discourage more young people from heavy drinking. - (Amy Norton/Reuters Health, May 2009)
SOURCE: Drug and Alcohol Review, May 2009.
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