Objectives: To examine self-reported patterns of alcohol consumption and experience of alcohol-related harms among professional Australian Football League (AFL) players.
Design, setting and participants: Cross-sectional survey of player alcohol consumption and self-reported alcohol-related harms among members of all 16 professional AFL clubs. Data relating to the 2006 football year were collected between 25 July and 30 August 2006 at regular football training sessions using a self-administered structured questionnaire.
Main outcome measures: Risky/high-risk drinking for long- and short-term harm at different times of the year; Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) score.
Results: 582 AFL players completed the questionnaire (an 83% response rate). Alcohol consumption varied at different times of the year. During the playing season (approximately 22 weeks), the level of risky/high-risk consumption for long-term harm in AFL players (11/564 [2%]) was typically lower than in age-matched Australian men in the general population (15%). However, risky/high-risk consumption for long-term harm was higher in AFL players during the end-of-season period (approximately 2 weeks) (303/561 [54%]) and vacation period (6-8 weeks) (231/559 [41%]) than in age-matched Australian men. Risky/high-risk drinking for short-term harm on a monthly basis was frequent at all times of the year (eg, 395/560 [71%] in the pre-season period). The mean AUDIT score was 8.8 (95% CI, 8.4 to 9.1; range, 0 to 36). Reports of harmful effects of drinking and negative consequences, such as getting involved in a fight (physical or verbal) while drinking (146/556 [26%]), were common. Risky/high-risk consumption for short-term harm on a monthly basis was associated with a variety of player characteristics, such as usually drinking in public locations (odds ratio, 1.55 [95% CI, 1.02 to 2.35]). AUDIT score was associated with variables such as marital status, with married players scoring more than two points lower (95% CI, - 3.58 to - 0.58) than single players. Formal club rules on alcohol consumption had little effect on outcome measures.
Conclusions: Drinking among AFL players is intricately related to time of year. This seasonal drinking pattern requires the development of specific club and league strategies to minimise drinking-related harms to players.