More than half of Australia's professional AFL players consume alcohol during the end-of-season period at levels that could put them at risk of long-term harm, according to a world-first study published in the latest issue of the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA).
Associate Professor Paul Dietze (Monash University) and Rebecca Jenkinson of the Centre for Population Health at the Burnet Institute in Melbourne, and Associate Professor John Fitzgerald of the University of Melbourne, surveyed 582 professional AFL players from across Australia on their drinking habits during four periods- pre-season, the playing season, end-of-season, and vacation. The survey was completed in 2006.
While fewer AFL players (2 per cent) drank at risky levels than the general male population (15 per cent) during the season, 54 per cent reported drinking at risky/high risk levels for long-term harm in the end-of-season period.
"The overall picture of consumption is one of relative restraint during the pre-season and home-and-away periods, coupled with relatively high levels of consumption outside these periods," Assoc Prof Dietze said.
The study found that membership of specific clubs influenced drinking behaviour to some extent.
"This suggests that the good work being done by some clubs in encouraging responsible consumption needs to be identified and replicated in other clubs," he said.
However, the authors cautioned that formal club rules alone had little effect on risky drinking.
During the playing period, married players were less likely to engage in hazardous drinking, but club seniority seemed to have no effect on risky drinking behaviour. Players who drank in public and received free drink cards were more likely to drink at risky levels.
Players reported a range of consequences from their drinking, with 33 per cent saying it had affected their physical health, 32 per cent reporting an effect on finances, and 26 per cent admitting they had argued or fought while drinking.
Marriage and relationships, housework, friendships and work or study opportunities had also suffered to various extents because of drinking, players reported.
The authors said the study, unique among professional sporting codes and commissioned by the AFL and AFL Players Association, was used to help the AFL develop an effective approach to responsible alcohol policy and governance.