Little is known about people’s river usage, a leading drowning location. This study examines alcohol consumption patterns of river users and their attitudes to drowning risk.
A convenience sample of adult (18+ years) river users were surveyed at four river locations. The survey covered eight domains: demographics; river attendance frequency; frequency of engaging in water activities; drinking patterns; alcohol and water safety knowledge; alcohol and water safety attitudes; alcohol consumption; and Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC). For BAC, participants were asked to record time since their last alcoholic drink and were then breathalysed to record an estimate of their BAC. BAC was examined by BAC reading (negative, positive, ≥0.050%). Hazardous lifetime drinking levels were calculated and their impact on drowning risk evaluated. Univariate and chi square analysis (95% confidence interval) was conducted.
Six hundred eighty four people participated (51.6% female; 49.0% aged 18–34 years). Sixteen percent (15.9%) had a positive BAC (Mean + BAC = 0.068%; SD ± 0.08; Range = 0.001–0.334%), with 7.2% ≥0.050% (Mean BAC ≥0.050% =0.132%; SD ± 0.06). Those significantly more likely to record a BAC ≥0.050% at the river were: aged 18–34 years, resided in inner regional and low socio-economic areas, visited the river in the afternoon, with friends, on days with higher maximum air temperatures, frequent river users (11+ times in the last 30 days) and those who spend longer in the water (301+ minutes). River users who recorded a BAC ≥0.050% were more likely to self-report engaging in risky activities (i.e. diving into water of unknown depth and jumping into the river from height). River users on Australia day (a national public holiday) were significantly more likely to drink heavily (Mean BAC ≥0.05% = 0.175%; SD ± 0.09).
Despite males accounting for 85% of alcohol-related river drowning deaths, similar numbers of males and females were consuming alcohol at the river. This study has addressed a gap in knowledge by identifying river usage and alcohol consumption patterns among those at increased drowning risk. Implications for prevention include delivering alcohol-related river drowning prevention strategies to both males and females; at peak times including during hot weather, afternoons, public holidays and to river users who swim.