Many Pacific people do not drink

In general, Pacific adults are less likely than non-Pacific adults to have consumed alcohol in the past year.

In 2019/20, 63.5% of Pacific adults had consumed alcohol in the past year, which is significantly lower than the total New Zealand population (81.5%). Among men, 70.9% consumed alcohol and 57.5% of Pacific women. Non-drinking is also more common among those who report being born overseas than in New Zealand.

One change that is occurring is that more Pacific women are choosing to drink. Whilst the majority of Pacific women were previously abstainers, now the majority of Pacific women are drinkers.

Pacific non-drinkers have been shown to be more likely to say they don’t drink because of religious reasons (21%) and family reasons or commitments (10%) compared to non-Māori/non-Pacific non-drinkers (11% and 7.0% respectively).

Among the diverse Pacific population, Cook Islanders and Niueans have been found to be more likely to drink than those of Samoan or Tongan ethnicity.

Gender differences also exist among Tongans, with men being significantly more likely to drink than women. 

Among those that drink, hazardous drinking is common

Among drinkers in 2019/20around 4 in 10 (38.4%) of Pacific past-year drinkers were classified as hazardous drinkers (AUDIT score equals or greater than 8). This prevalence was higher among Pacific men (48.6%) than women (28.2%).

In 2019/20, Pacific adults drinkers were 1.38 times more likely to be hazardous drinkers than non-Pacific drinkers, after taking into account age and sex.

In comparison, the prevalence of hazardous drinking among Māori drinkers was 43.4%, 26.0% in European drinkers and 8.4% in Asian drinkers.

Among all men (including drinkers and non-drinkers), the rates (%) of hazardous drinking are below:

Among women (including drinkers and non-drinkers), the rates (%) of hazardous drinking are below:


Similarly to Pacific adults, fewer Pacific young people drink alcohol compared with the general population but those who drink alcohol often consume a high amount.

According to the Youth 2012 national survey, half as many Pacific students reported using alcohol or binge drinking compared to 2001. An earlier study provided more details on drinking patterns among Pacific students, using the Youth 2007 national survey. It found:

  • Around 32% of surveyed Pacific students reported binge drinking in the last 4 weeks (no differences by gender).
  • Around 42% of all older students (17 years) reported binge drinking compared with around 15% of younger students (13 years).
  • Students living in the most deprived neighbourhoods were less likely to binge drink  (~29%) than those from the  least (34.5%) and medium  (37.2%) deprived areas.
  • By specific ethnicity, Cook Island students had a higher prevalence of binge drinking (~39%) than Niuean (~32%), Tongan (~30%) and Samoan (~30%) students.

The Youth'19 Rangatahi Survey found that a smaller proportion of Pacific youth reported binge drinking at least once in the past 4 weeks (13% compared to 24% for Pākehā and other European youth). The prevalence among Pacific males (12.7%) and females (12.9%) was similar.

Pacific youth drinking has declined in the last few decades, especially among males. From 2012 to 2019, the proportion of Pacific males who reported binge drinking in the past week reduced from 21% in 2012 to 13% in 2019. In 2019, Pacific youth from low deprivation areas (higher income neighbourhoods) reported higher rates of binge drinking (23%) than those from high deprivation areas (10%).

****** For more information on Pacific people's drinking, read this Health Promotion Agency report TAEAO MALAMA Alcohol use among Pacific peoples

Alcohol harm

Pacific communities experience a disproportionate amount of alcohol-related harm compared to the general population. Harms reported by Pacific drinkers include:

For Pacific young people, almost one in four Pacific students reported experiencing alcohol-related harm. The most common reported alcohol-related problems were: doing things that could get them into trouble (29%), having unsafe sex (28%), having friends and family talk with them about cutting down on their alcohol use (26%), and getting an injury as a result of their alcohol use (25%).  Alcohol use also influenced their performance at school (20%).