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Alcohol; its Relationship with New Zealanders

Many New Zealanders consume alcohol on a regular basis and would not consider the way they drink as hazardous. Alcohol use is visible in a very public way and is an accepted practice within New Zealand society.

It is easy to forget then that because alcohol is our countries most widely consumed recreational drug, it causes more damage than any other drug available.

The New Zealand Drug Foundation reports that alcohol is responsible for more harm to our society than illegal substances methamphetamine, cocaine, ecstasy, LSD and heroin combined.

In an earlier article, we identified new research data that reveals that any amount of alcohol consumed comes with risks. The brain, heart, liver, pancreas and kidney can all potentially suffer damage from alcohol.

The Health Promotion Agency (HPA) recommends no more than 15 standard drinks of alcohol per week for men or 10 standard drinks for women. This means a daily limit of 3 standard drinks for men, and 2 standard drinks for women.

Currently, on average 80 percent of New Zealanders are regularly drinking alcohol according to the New Zealand Drug Foundation. Addiction continues to be a substantial problem in our communities across all socio-economic populations.

Since so many of us consume alcohol what is the total extent of harm that alcohol may have on the Nation? By total extent, we mean how does alcohol influence New Zealand society as a Nation and as individuals with family and friends?

In this article, we will investigate these questions and hopefully answer them as best as we can within the framework of this discussion. Although, it will not be possible to present all the relevant information on such a topic, perhaps we can assist you to be better informed.

How Much Alcohol New Zealanders are Drinking

Russia is the current world champion for alcohol consumption. Per capita the total amount of alcohol drunk is 13.8L for every Russian over the age of 15.

We are number ten from the top of the list while our neighbours Australia are ahead of us at seventh place in the world while the US and the UK are 9 and 8 consecutively.

Even though we are drinking less than many other countries, on average every drinker over 15 consumes 8.7L of alcohol each year. Do we as a nation drink this amount of alcohol in a regulated manner or do we have a binge drinking culture as some may insist?

Kiwi Drinking Culture

The encouraging news is that we are drinking less these days as a Nation. As it has been said before though “it is not the drinking, it’s the way we are drinking”. Although the total amount we are drinking has reduced, there continues to some people who drink in a hazardous manner or in a way that carries the risk of physical or psychological harm.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) have conducted the Global Drug Survey which some New Zealanders have taken part in. The research reveals that two-thirds of the population that drink have experienced some modest difficulty or problem that is alcohol related. On the other end of the scale 7.9 percent of men and 4.6 percent of females may need assistance with dependence on alcohol.

We may have heard the term “binge drinking” as a description of the prevalent type of drinking in New Zealand. Is there really a definite drinking culture in New Zealand or is this idea something that we presume? A survey in 2015 on the perceptions of drinking culture in New Zealand discovered some interesting facts.

Most New Zealanders disagree with the statement that getting drunk is acceptable but over 50 percent believe binge drinking is part of our national culture. No definition of “binge drinking” was provided to the participants in the study but varying responses to the survey may reflect the differences in interpretation.

The acceptance of drunkenness varied by age, with young adults more likely to believe getting drunk is acceptable in some circumstances. Heavy drinkers were more likely to agree that getting drunk is acceptable sometimes, although other heavy drinkers disagreed or had no opinion about the matter.

It appears that labelling our drinking culture as “binge” would not correlate with the prevailing attitude of many New Zealanders, at least at this moment in time. Although there continues to be some of the population that drinks in a hazardous manner attitudes towards alcohol have changed. This change in attitude can be observed by the amount of alcohol New Zealanders are now drinking on average as compared historically.

Making the Decision Not to Drink

Alcohol is a part of many if not most social engagements in New Zealand. Being offered an alcoholic drink at social gatherings is considered polite.

The individual not drinking at a Saturday night party will most definitely be in the minority. Most people tend to be surprised when we choose not to drink when out. Is it difficult choosing to abstain from alcohol particularly if you are out frequently socialising?

What is the attitude towards people who don’t drink alcohol at all? How about the person who desires to quit drinking alcohol because of developing a dependence or perhaps the individual who has decided that it just isn’t for them?

Is there pressure in New Zealand society to drink alcohol and are we conditioned from an early age to become drinkers? Why is it that we are encouraged to drink by some people and met with disapproval from others when we say we are not drinking?

A recent study defined “social drinkers” as people who have drinks in a social setting away from their home at least once a week. This group are more likely to have experienced pressure from others to drink than those who are not social drinkers. It does in fact appear that saying “yes” can often be about fitting in because we are too afraid to say “no”. It will also come as no surprise to any of us that we enjoy doing what our friends are doing.

Heavy or “risky” drinkers are more likely to put pressure on their mates to join them in drinking even if that person may be reluctant. Presumably this is because social drinkers are more likely to be part of a group were hazardous drinking is the accepted norm.

The great majority of research on social and peer influences on drinking behaviour has been conducted on teenagers and University students. This is because young adults are influenced by peer pressure more than any other demographic. It is believed that because teenagers are socially more anxious, or worried about what others think of them, they are more prone to hazardous drinking.

A social group drinking in a hazardous manner indirectly influences other members through role modelling, meaning others behaviour can set the tone for what is perceived as acceptable. Peers can of course directly influence through overt encouragement to drink, such as buying a person a drink when they have said they don’t want one, or gesturing others to drink up. 

Why is There Pressure from Others to Drink?

Our community comprises of many other “communities”, the definition of community has been defined as “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common”. Another is, “the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common”.

We tend to seek others who we share common ground with, we are social in nature and relational. In fact, belonging to some type of group or community is considered essential for our wellbeing, isolation is considered a sign that something is not right with us.

As with any group setting we tend to associate with others who engage in similar behaviours, when we start doing things in a way that goes against the group norm, it challenges the acceptability of that group behaviour. That is why we encounter difficulty when we decide to not drink in a social setting that includes alcohol as an accepted norm. People can feel uncomfortable when shown that there are other choices in life and that we don’t need to follow the status quo.

It of course is very difficult for somebody who needs to stop drinking because of alcohol dependence and/or alcohol related health problems. The people they socialise with will tend to be drinkers as well. Unsupported, the person with alcohol problems may struggle to abstain. Learning to socialise in a way that is not centred around alcohol can be important for many while most will need the proper help to abstain.

The Impact Alcohol Has on New Zealand Society

At least one third of offences recorded by Police are committed by people who consumed alcohol prior to the offence. It is estimated that 18 percent of the Police budget is spent on alcohol related problems.

The statistics are confronting, half of all the serious violence offences and one in three cases of family violence in New Zealand has been alcohol related.

In 2012, driver alcohol was a contributing factor in 73 fatal car crashes, 331 serious injury crashes and 933 minor crashes. A total of 93 people died from these crashes, 454 with serious injuries and 1,331 with minor injuries. It is estimated that between 600 and 800 New Zealanders die each year from alcohol related causes. Almost one-fifth of all deaths in males and one-tenth of all deaths in females between the age of 20 and 24 can be attributed to alcohol.

Alcohol is involved in 18% to 35% of all injury based presentations at our emergency departments, this figure increases to between 60% and 70% during the weekend. One in five sexual offenders in New Zealand had consumed alcohol prior to the offence, one in two cases are not reported.

According to the World Health Organisation 60 different health related disorders are attributed to alcohol. Hazardous alcohol use was estimated to cost New Zealand $4.9 billion in 2005/06 according to a 2009 study. However, the Law Commission previously estimated $735 million to $126.1 billion for the same period.

These figures are just a glimpse into the impact of alcohol on our general populations health, crime rates and financial expenditure. The amount of study conducted on alcohol and its impact on New Zealand society is vast and we have investigated only some of the evidence provided.

 The discussion so far has considered what impact alcohol may have on New Zealanders as a nation and some of the attitudes and behaviours related to drinking. In part two we will examine some of what we currently know about alcohol and its impact on our physical health.

Alcohol Addiction if left to run its progressive and destructive course ruins people’s lives, not only the individual suffering the Addiction, also those people who love and care for them.

Capri Sanctuary provides an environment that has a focus on our Guest’s ‘Wellbeing’. Our clinical programme is evidence-informed and underpinned by our philosophy based in ‘Transformation through Partnership and Relationship’. It is delivered to you by our highly qualified and experienced team and directed to meet our Guest’s specific individual needs.

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