Community action on alcohol consumption finds success in west

PARKES and Forbes are among NSW towns reported to be getting on top of their booze blues because of a world-leading research project.

The five-year and multi-million-dollar Alcohol Action in Rural Communities (AARC) project tested a community action approach to reducing risky alcohol consumption, too often resulting in harm.

NSW Minister for Western NSW, Mental Health and Healthy Lifestyles, Kevin Humphries, yesterday said the project had been effective in reducing alcohol consumption in rural communities, as well as rates of binge-drinking, alcohol-related crime and residents' experience of alcohol abuse.

He said the project demonstrated communities had an important role to play in complementing state and federal government interventions.

"When given the opportunity, local communities are prepared to work effectively with their local government, health services, police, schools and researchers to formulate and establish effective evidence-based solutions," the minister said.

The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) provided $2.4 million to the project that comprised 13 evidence-based, community-led interventions.

It is reported to have been the largest and most rigorous project of its kind in the world.

AARC was a partnership between communities, local government, government agencies, FARE, the University of New South Wales and the University of Newcastle.

The 20 NSW towns in the study included the 10 experimental communities of Corowa, Forbes, Grafton, Griffith, Gunnedah, Inverell, Kempsey, Leeton, Parkes and Tumut, as well as the 10 control communities of Ballina, Broken Hill, Byron Bay, Casino, Cootamundra, Cowra, Deniliquin, Lithgow, Moree and Wauchope.

Interventions took place at health facilities and high schools, where students took part in interactive sessions on alcohol abuse, in the offices of GPs and during "high-risk" weekends.

The total cost of implementing all 13 interventions in the 10 experimental communities was $608,102 or about $61,000 per community.

For every $1 spent, the return to the communities was conservatively estimated at between $1.37 and $1.75.

The experimental communities saw a 20 per cent reduction in average alcohol consumption, a 42 per cent reduction in residents' experience of alcohol-fuelled verbal abuse, a 33 per cent reduction in alcohol-related street offences and a 30 per cent reduction in short-term high-risk drinkers, compared to the control towns.

"This world-leading research, conducted here in NSW, makes it clear that co-ordinated community action does make a difference," Mr Humphries said.

"The results speak for themselves. Given the known relationships between excessive alcohol consumption and poor physical and mental health, these findings are particularly encouraging."

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