Page last updated: August 2021

Harmful drinking declines across all age groups in New Zealand

Data in the newly released New Zealand Health Survey 2020/21 shows the number of New Zealanders who consumed alcohol in the past year has declined by 3.1% and is at its lowest in 10 years, according to the NZ Alcohol Beverages Council (NZABC). In 2020/21, 78.5% of Kiwis chose to drink alcohol compared to 81.6% in the previous year. The decline is most notable among adults aged 25-34 years (-4.8%), 45-54 years (-4.3%) and 65-74 years (-4.7%), and in the M?ori population (-2.7%).
The survey found that 19.9% of adults had a hazardous drinking pattern in 2020/21. ( defined as Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) score of 8 or more, representing an established pattern of drinking that carries a high risk of future damage to physical or mental health). The rate was down from 21.3% in 2019/20. Hazardous drinking across the total population has declined slightly (-1.4%). It has decreased the most in the older generations: adults aged 35-44 years (-2.1%), 45-54 years (-4.2%), 65-74 years (-1.6%), and 75+ years (-1.7%). Hazardous drinking in the M?ori population has also declined (-3.2%). Generally, the rate of hazardous drinking has remained relatively stable for all population groups since the time series began in 2015/16.
The age groups with the highest rates of hazardous drinking were 18–24 years (34.9%), followed by 25–34 years (23.9%) and 45–54 years (23.8%). Asian adults (5.7%) had a lower rate of hazardous drinking than other ethnic groups: M?ori (33.2%), Pacific (26.5%) and European/Other (21.1%).
Bridget MacDonald, NZABC’s Executive Director commented “Typically, it is the younger generation drinking less, but now we are seeing a positive shift in older people’s drinking behaviours... Kiwis are making better decisions about alcohol based on their personal circumstances and lifestyle and the increase in no- and low-alcohol options available. As a result, our consumption is decreasing and below the OECD average, and hazardous drinking is declining”.
“It’s evident you can teach ‘old dogs’ new tricks, with older Kiwis taking the lead on reducing hazardous drinking. The majority of New Zealanders drink moderately and sensibly, and we’re drinking about 25% less than the 70s and 80s. But the downward trend in harmful drinking shows it is possible to make further changes to our drinking culture. Our own research shows that the older age group are embracing no- and low-alcohol drinks, and those who choose to drink full-strength beverages are drinking them in a more moderate & mindful way.”
“Young adults aged 18-24 years are part of the new generation of more sensible drinkers who are more likely to choose to drink smarter. Although the trend is that hazardous drinking is falling in this age group, it crept up 2.3% in the past year. It’s a timely reminder to think about ‘how’ and ‘what’ we are drinking. A good rule of thumb is ‘Go no, low or slow’ – it’s always okay to choose no alcohol, choose a drink that is low-alcohol, or simply sip and savour your drink slowly.”

health.govt.nz/nz-health-statistics/national-collections-and-surveys/surveys/new-zealand-health-survey
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