Four myths about New Zealanders and alcohol

By BeertownNZ Wed, 30 Mar 2016 National

MYTH 1: New Zealanders are among the world’s biggest drinkers 

Fact – We are moderate drinkers compared to other nations

The OECD publishes an international comparison of alcohol consumption per head. The latest full data set is for 2010.

Of the 44 countries surveyed, 22 consume more than us as New Zealand ranks right in the middle at 23rd. Our average consumption is less than Lithuania, France, the UK, or Australia, and more than the Netherlands, USA, Canada or Turkey. (Consumption measured as litres of pure alcohol per person aged 15 and older.)

Source: Non-Medical Determinants of Health


MYTH 2: New Zealanders are drinking more now than we ever did in the past

Fact – Our drinking has been declining ever since the 1970s

New Zealanders drank more per head in 1978 than in any year before or since. The volume we drank (per head) in 1978 was 63% greater than the volume we drank in 2015.

Compared to 2015, New Zealanders drank:

  • 11% more per head in 2010
  • 16% more in 2000
  • 51% more in 1990
  • 57% more in 1980
  • 42% more in 1970

Source: Alcohol Available for Consumption, Resident Population


MYTH 3: Alcohol is the cause of most Emergency Department admissions at peak times

Fact – Even on busy Saturday nights, most hospital Emergency Department admissions are not caused by alcohol

A 2013 survey of 3619 Christchurch Emergency Department presentations found that at the very worst times, alcohol-caused presentations made up 25% of total presentations. The survey focused only on alcohol and did not research any other causes of presentations.

Of course, there’s never any excuse for drinking yourself stupid and every Emergency Department admission is undesirable. The study noted, “Alcohol-related presentations had a significant impact in the ED, particularly on weekends”. But even at peak times, most A&E presentations are not caused by alcohol.

Source: Stewart, R. et al 2014: The impact of alcohol-related presentations on a New Zealand hospital emergency department. The New Zealand Medical Journal Vol.127. No.1400 (p. 26): 


MYTH 4: The beersies are to blame

Fact – We’ve been easing off the beersies for nearly 40 years, and beer now accounts for just over one third of our alcohol consumption

New Zealanders’ beer consumption per head peaked in 1978. Since then it has declined at an average of 2% each year for 37 years. So 2015’s beer consumption/head was less than half of 1978’s, while our wine consumption doubled over the period and consumption of spirits remained stable.

Beer’s alcohol content is low compared to wine and spirits, so it provides much less than half the alcohol New Zealanders consume. Last year 38% of our alcohol was consumed through beer, 34% came from wine, and 28% was from spirits (including RTDs). 

NB – the total amount we drink is falling – see Myth 2 above.

Source: Alcohol Available for Consumption, Resident Population

By BeertownNZ Wed, 30 Mar 2016 National