Decade of Drinking
Drugs in New Zealand
DECADE OF DRINKING: TEN-YEAR TRENDS IN DRINKING PATTERNS IN
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND, 1990-1999
- Sally Casswell and Krishna Bhatta
- Alcohol & Public Health Research
Unit, May 2001
research findings are based on a rigorous methodology allowing
comparisons over time. The
consistency in the results for the different measures also adds to
the credibility of the results and allows for confidence when
drawing conclusions from the findings.
ten annual measurement points provides a rich and unusual source
of data to identify trends. The
data are drawn from the Auckland region and reflect an urban
drinking environment and demographic changes which have been
specific to Auckland. While some differences from the national
picture have been identified in this report overall it is likely
that the trends seen in Auckland were similar to those elsewhere
in the country. These data have provided a clear picture of a
worsening situation, from a public health perspective.
of the alcohol related harm experienced in New Zealand is a
consequence of heavier drinking.
This study has found significant increases in a number of
measures of heavier drinking across the decade. The typical
quantities consumed on a drinking occasion have increased, as have
complementary measures such as frequency of drinking enough to
feel drunk, and frequency of drinking larger amounts.
These increases have been particularly marked among the
youngest people in the sample, 14-19 year olds, but increases were
also found among the heaviest drinking group, the younger (under
30) men. There were also increases among women of all ages,
although on average they continue to drink smaller quantities than
men. The only group
not to report increases in measures of heavier drinking were the
men over 30.
keeping with the known relationship between heavier drinking
occasions and alcohol-related harm, the experiences of problems
associated with people’s own drinking reported in the survey
have also increased slightly over the decade, as have reports of
alcohol related violence such as physical assault and sexual
harassment by drinkers.
the increases in the quantities consumed are not large across the
whole sample - an increase from an average of 3 drinks to 3-4
drinks on a typical drinking occasion, they are most pronounced
among younger 14-17 year old drinkers an increase from 2-3 in 1990
to 5-6 drinks in 1999. Such increases in consumption among the
younger group in the population are of concern from a public
health perspective in terms of the increases in acute harm
experienced by that group. They are also of concern given the
evidence that heavier drinking cohorts of young people go on to be
heavier drinkers in later life and to experience more alcohol
related harm (Fillmore et al., 1991; Chou and Pickering, 1992; Yu
and Williford, 1992; Pedersen and Skrondal, 1998).
These trends therefore suggest accumulated problems as this
cohort moves through into adulthood.
survey data also allowed an examination of the drinking locations
in which heavier drinking occasions had increased. These increases
have occurred in the context of a changing drinking environment in
Auckland over the last decade.
New kinds of licensed venues and alcohol outlets have
opened, there are more of them and they are open for longer
trading hours. Sales
in supermarkets, for example, have increased the availability of
wine. Nightclubs contributed to increased accessibility for
younger people at the beginning of the decade and are a venue in
which the under 20s have engaged in heavier drinking occasions,
particularly in the second part of the decade. Nightclubs and pubs
have been able to operate for longer hours and these are both
venues in which people have engaged in heavier drinking occasions.
Such changes in the drinking hours, allowing longer drinking
sessions, have been shown in overseas research to contribute to
heavier drinking and alcohol related harm (Smith, 1988; Goddard,
1991; Edwards et al., 1994).
Sale of Liquor Act (1989) also introduced changes to the
conditions of licences which were intended to reduce intoxication,
and various community level initiatives have also taken place.
However, enforcement of the sale of alcohol was not stringent over
the decade and in the context of a more liberal social climate
these measures have not been sufficient to prevent increases in
heavier drinking occasions.
locations in which there have been increases in heavier drinking
occasions have been in homes and non licensed locations, such as
outdoor public places and cars. These increases point to more
generalised influences on consumption than those directly
affecting drinking on licensed premises. The greater availability
of takeaway alcohol, particularly sale of wine in supermarkets, is
a likely contributor. Other
research has shown that the introduction of wine to supermarkets
was responsible for a 16% increase in wine consumption in New
Zealand (Zhang and Casswell, 1999).
Qualitative research suggested this was particularly
important for women (Wyllie et al., 1993) and in this research
increases were found for both younger and older women.
increases are also likely to reflect other changes in the alcohol
environment which have taken place over the decade. Major changes
occurred in the marketing of alcohol with the introduction of
alcohol brand advertising on television and radio in 1992. The
likelihood that this exposure to powerful broadcast advertising
has contributed to an increase in heavier drinking is supported by
other research evidence which has shown that the television
advertising in 1992-1993 increased heavier drinking by beer
drinkers (Casswell and Zhang, 1998).
Other international evidence has also suggested a
contributory effect of alcohol advertising to heavier drinking
(Hill and Casswell, 2001).
broadcast advertising has also been linked to changes in the
social climate surrounding alcohol (Wallack, 1983).
Evidence from these surveys suggests the development of a
more positive climate. There
have been decreases in the number of people concerned about the
drinking of others, despite the increase in heavier drinking and
alcohol related problems. The greater availability of wine,
including its sale in supermarkets may have also contributed to a
process of normalisation. Over the decade more people believed
that wine was a drink suitable for most times of the day. Wine’s
availability in supermarkets and drinking more wine with meals
also increased as reasons for drinking more.
influence in the media environment has been the proliferation of
messages claiming that alcohol is good for health, based in large
part on evidence of a reduced risk of ischemic heart disease
(Edwards et al., 1994). The
surveys also found increases in the number of people who said
drinking was good for their health was a reason for drinking more.
introduced to counter negative effects of alcohol use over the
decade have included compulsory breath testing and
anti-drink-driving advertisements . However, there has been a
decrease in the number of people who cited being ‘worried about
being caught drinking and driving’ as a reason for drinking less
since the peak in 1993 when CBT was introduced. This decline was
confined to younger men and women however (those under 30).
however, there are indications of less caution over drinking, both
from the increases in typical quantities being consumed and the
complementary measure of drinking enough to feel drunk as well as
from the more liberalised attitudinal changes found in the
is evidence that economic changes influence consumption but this
effected how often people drank, not the typical quantities they
consumed. During the recession in the early years of the decade
all income groups drank less often. Having less money to spend on
alcohol was given as a reason for drinking less by more people at
the time of the economic recession and this declined in popularity
as a reason for drinking less as the economy recovered. Economic
circumstances also affected the numbers of people who chose not to
drink anything in the year prior to the survey. This was true of
the lower and middle income groups who included fewer drinkers
than the higher income group at the beginning of the decade and
whose numbers of drinkers declined further in the first part of
the decade. An upward turn in the Auckland economy was matched by
an increase in drinking by all groups.
The higher income group, whose real income improved during
the economic recovery, increased their frequency of drinking to
pre-recession levels. However, their frequency of drinking
levelled off in the second part of the decade when there was an
increase in the real price of alcohol.
indications of the effects of economic change on how often people
drink are of policy interest. They suggest that increases in
consumption which are facilitated by improved economic conditions
can be mitigated by an increase in the real price of alcohol.
This has policy implications since the real price is
affected by taxation.
it appears that taxation policy can contribute to reduced alcohol
related harm by constraining how often people drink it did not
constrain increases in heavier drinking occasions. Other policies
related to how and when alcohol is made available and the
management of licensed premises may require review in the light of
these research results.
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