A CULTURE of ''pre-loading'' on alcohol before going to pubs and clubs is causing alcohol-related crime, violence, hospital admissions, assault and death.
Australia's largest study into alcohol-related night-time crime has found people are increasingly drinking before they go out to avoid high alcohol prices in venues, prompting experts to call for reform of pricing in liquor shops.
People who drank between six and 10 standard drinks before going out were twice as likely to get into trouble as those who did not drink beforehand, the researchers found.
Almost 10 per cent of those surveyed drank more than 11 standard drinks before reaching the venue, with some consuming as many as 25 - quadrupling their risk of harm.
Police and public health experts say the drinking culture is out of control and laws must be changed to stop risky drinking.
Increasing the price of alcohol in bottle shops by introducing a levy on packaged drinks would help, said Peter Miller, a researcher at Deakin University and the lead author of the study.
''There are many people drinking around the corner from the pub, in their cars or in their homes, and it is so difficult for venues to detect that unless someone is very obviously intoxicated when they arrive,'' Associate Professor Miller said.
The study recommended restricting trading hours at all venues rather than lock-outs.
The study, Dealing with Alcohol-related Harm and the Night-time Economy, compared the effectiveness of alcohol-related crime prevention measures between 2005 and 2010 through licensing regulation in Newcastle and voluntary programs in Geelong, Victoria.
These included locking patrons out of clubs after 1.30am, banning alcohol shots after 10pm, limiting drink sales, and the use of ID scanners. Hospital and police data was reviewed and almost 4000 pub and club patrons interviewed.
Associate Professor Miller said the number of assaults in Newcastle had dropped during the study but stayed the same in Geelong, where the measures implemented were voluntary.
''They were more focused on reducing violent crime after people were already drunk, which is far too late,'' he said.
The impact of alcohol was widely debated following the death in July of Thomas Kelly, 18, who was king-hit in Kings Cross.
Two weeks ago, the Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, said he was ''appalled'' by the number of drink-related fatalities, injuries and crimes.
The number of people drinking at a high-risk level has risen during the past decade, from 8.2 per cent of people in 1995 to 13.4 per cent in 2005, the most recent figures from the Bureau of Statistics show.
The chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund, Detective Superintendent Tony Cooke, said a shift in drinking culture had contributing to the violence.
''Drinking levels are clearly increasing, pre-loading is a bigger issue, venues are open later than they used to be and an issue for us all to look at is off-licence premises and the sale of pre-packaged liquor,'' he said.
A professor of public health and the co-chairman of the National Alliance for Action on Alcohol, Mike Daube, said the study provided clear measures for the government to implement.
''Our society seems to accept night-time violence as inevitable but this study shows that we can do something about it,'' Professor Daube said.
The Australian Hotels Association would not comment.
Another survey found older high-school children were continuing to drink at risky levels but alcohol use by younger teenagers was falling.
A survey of 25,000 students, carried out every three years, found about one in five pupils had consumed alcohol in the past seven days.
The number of 12- to 15-year-olds classified as current drinkers fell from 17 per cent in 2008 to 11 per cent last year, the Australian Secondary Students' Alcohol and Drug survey found.
The proportion of 16- and 17-year-olds who drank in the past week fell slightly, from 38 per cent in 2008 to 33 per cent cent last year.