30th October 2012

Alcohol, Glass and Violence (Alasdair Forsyth) 

Alasdair Forsyth has conducted a range of research projects focusing on the links between alcohol-related glass, and its role in increasing the severity of violence, and in other forms of anti-social behaviour or injury risk.  This initially involved an exploration of the impact of introducing drinking vessels manufactured in mediums other than annealed glass (e.g. plastics, aluminium or ‘safety glassware’) to serve alcohol at on-trade premises, specifically the impact of a glassware ban in Glasgow’s late night drinking venues (i.e. those holding an entertainments license).  His paper, ‘Banning Glassware from Nightclubs in Glasgow’, assessed the impact of the glassware ban and patrons attitudes towards it, by combining police data, participant observation and interviews with nightclub patrons.

Alasdair then led a research project investigating alcohol-related detritus in community settings; which combined interviews with off-sales workers and a survey of alcohol related litter. The latter phase of this project was accomplished by photographing and mapping the remains of all branded bottles and cans or other alcohol detritus, lying within a residential community (population 23,000) in mid Scotland. As a comparator, ‘An Investigation into the environmental impact of off-licensed premises on residential neighbourhoods’ also recorded any illicit drug-related detritus found littering the survey area.

At this time, he was also involved in related research which conducted Focus Groups with youthful street drinkers, in situ, at various locations ranging from central Glasgow to rural parts of Central Scotland.  ‘Young People’s Street Drinking Behaviour: Investigating the Influence of Marketing & Subculture’ was unique in that it combined the observation of drinking behaviours (in parks, public squares etc.) with qualitative interviews, and helped to explain why young people consume certain alcohol brands in these alfresco locations and how this relates to policing and alcohol policy.

Finally, Alasdair was involved in ongoing Scottish Prison Service (SPS) research into alcohol use amongst male young offenders in custody. ‘Alcohol and Violence among Young Male Offenders in Scotland’ combined a self-complete survey of 172 offenders in 2007 with 30 qualitative interviews conducted in 2008, which is one of the only studies of youth violence in Scotland in recent years.

Key Findings from the Research
The nightclub research revealed that although replacing glass with other types of vessels is unlikely to reduce the incidence of violent events, what it will do is reduce the severity of such events.

The photographic mapping survey of alcohol and drug related detritus, found that the presence of such litter, especially broken glass, was statistically significantly related to variations in local area deprivation, rather than proximity to an off-sales premises.  This is a finding which raises doubts over the efficacy of any future alcohol social-responsibility policies based on the ‘polluter pays principle’. Only 3 instances of drug related detritus were identified (none of which comprised needles / syringes) compared to 1,406 instances of brand identifiable alcohol-related detritus (including 587 glass bottles, 67% of which were smashed).

A majority (53.4%) of the 172 Scottish Young Offenders surveyed were found to be in custody for a serious violent offence and most (81.3%) had been drinking prior to their current offence. In this survey, a “bottle” was the weapon which was the second most often reported as being ‘used’ “to injure someone”.   However, few of these young offenders reported intentionally ‘carrying’ a bottle (unlike other weapons, particularly knives). In addition, most (80.5%) of young offenders who reported having used any weapon to injure someone stated that they had consumed alcohol prior to doing so. The potential link between alcohol, glass bottles and the severity of violence was confirmed during the subsequent qualitative interviews with young offenders, which revealed accounts of violent incidents where a bottle had been used simply because this was what was in their hand at the time, during a drinking session, or because of the ubiquitous nature of bottles at the locations where they drank and fought in the community.

One alcohol product “Buckfast Tonic Wine” accounted for 54% of all glass alcohol-related detritus in the photographic survey.  Further, the same brand had been consumed by 43% of the young offenders surveyed prior to their current offence, either alone or in combination with other drinks or drugs (particularly diazepam).  However, the young offenders did not equate this beverage’s effects with violence, despite describing serious violent incidents involving Buckfast bottles, that attribution was reserved for spirits (i.e. strong alcohol).

Alasdair’s research has been consulted and cited by various individuals and organisations outside academia.  His article ‘Banning Glassware from Nightclubs in Glasgow’ was voted as one of the 50 best ever examples of alcohol harm reduction research by the International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA 2008).  Alasdair’s work is often quoted in the press and has been regularly cited in the Scottish Parliament.  Given his knowledge in this area Alasdair has also been invited to give evidence to the Scottish Parliament, recently providing evidence about the Alcohol (Scotland) Bill to the Health and Sport Committee.


Violence, Drugs and Alcohol