Alcohol and our Community

Most of us enjoy a drink, and it’s only a few idiots who spoil it for everyone else, right? Well, that depends on what you mean by “a few”, and how much we are prepared to tolerate before we consider there’s some “spoiling” going on. If you had 100 Kiwis who were drinking together, how many would you consider had a drinking problem? 2 or 3, 5 maybe – or if you were bring a bit pessimistic, 10? Actually, it would be about 25. And that’s just people with a current drinking problem. The majority of us have had a sustained pattern of hazardous drinking at some time in our life. That’s not an exaggeration, it’s a fact.

We are all aware that drinking is particularly a concern for young people. While this is true, we shouldn’t lose sight of how much problem drinking there is for the rest of the adult population. For example, a third of men in their 40’s and 50’s are hazardous drinkers, putting their health, relationships, and work at risk. And it’s not just men, the same is true for about a quarter of women in their 30’s. We need to think not only about the harm this drinking is doing for these adults and our communities, but also the example this is setting for young people. Concerned about your teenagers’ potential for getting in to trouble with alcohol? Take a good, hard look at your own drinking – and that of your friends and other adults that teenagers exposed to. Remember, drinking doesn’t have to be “out of control” to be sending some pretty unhealthy messages about the importance of alcohol and the normality of intoxication.

Now is a critical time to be considering the place of alcohol in our community. Parliament is in the final stages of considering wide-ranging alcohol law reforms. This brings us to the whole issue of balancing personal freedom against limiting harm. Changes suggested like putting up prices, changing hours of operation, and reducing outlet density are all measures that most of us might find inconvenient on occasion. In addition, we think these measures may be too blunt, targeting us (the “ok” drinkers), rather than targeting them (the “problem” drinkers). But the fact is that the “problem” drinkers are a big part of society, and the proposed measures are targeted. A modest price rise won’t have much impact on moderate drinkers, but is going to be felt by those at risk – the young drinkers and the heavy drinkers. There are also some really well supported changes that won’t have any negative impact on most drinkers – like limiting advertising, and reducing the blood alcohol level for drink-driving from its current level (which actually allows people to drive while intoxicated in New Zealand). It’s not the public who are against these recommendations, it’s segments of the alcohol industry. I wonder why… Unfortunately, the government’s response looks like it’s going to be pretty limp. While there are some good changes around licensing requirements in the pipeline, what’s been proposed really does look like tinkering around the edges of the problem.

The business of running the country must be hugely complex and choosing the right policies is a real challenge. However, identifying effective, proven ways to reduce the enormous harm done be alcohol is easy – the research has been done over and over in many countries. All that’s required is for the government to have the courage to act. They might find that courage more readily if the public was willing to express its concern. If you want to express your concern, visit for information on how to contact your local MP, and what you might say to them, as well as other helpful information and links. If you’re concerned about your drinking or someone else’s drinking, call the Alcohol Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797.


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