New study investigates impact of alcohol price on illicit drug taking

A project designed to investigate the impact of alcohol pricing on young Australians’ drinking patterns and consumption of illicit drugs has been awarded a prestigious Australian Research Council linkage grant.

The two year study, by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) at the University of New South Wales, in collaboration with the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics (BOCSAR), will use the internet to canvass young Australians’ responses to hypothetical changes in prices of alcohol, cannabis and ecstasy, to improve our understanding of which alcohol pricing policies minimise harmful alcohol and illicit drug use on a typical night out.

“There is pretty clear evidence that increasing the price of alcohol is one of the most effective ways of reducing the amount of harmful drinking in Australians aged 18 to 30 years,” says the study’s Chief Investigator Dr Jenny Chalmers.

“What is less clear is whether or not some young people will find other cheaper ways of getting high or intoxicated – that is why we have included the illicit drugs cannabis and ecstasy in our study and allow for different ways of purchasing alcohol.

“We know that drug users sometimes switch between illicit drugs in response to a price increase and that some people switch to cheaper forms of alcohol or buy it in cheaper ways when the price goes up,” says Dr Chalmers. “But not all drugs (including alcohol) are substitutes. People do combine drugs to compensate for the side-effects of one drug or take advantage of the effects of drugs when taken together. ”

Reliable evidence on switching between alcohol and illicit drugs is scant and inconclusive, says Dr Chalmers.

“This project will not only tell us who drinks less alcohol when the price rises, but will help us distinguish the people that replace the alcohol with ecstasy or cannabis from the people who use less illicit drugs as well.”

For more information or to speak to Dr Chalmers contact Marion Downey on 0401 713 850. m.downey@unsw.edu.au

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