Case for Change

Young people experience high levels of alcohol-related harm. Places where young people spend a lot of time need to promote health and well-being, rather than increase risk for a young people to experience harm. 

Schools play important functions in the wider community, and are often a hub for community gatherings. Sometimes these involve alcohol. Some schools have licences to sell/serve alcohol, others use alcohol sales as a fund-raising activity. School balls have also caused concern. More recently, Councils are adopting measures which prohibit special licences for child-focused events.

Tertiary students are among our heaviest drinking groups in New Zealand. They experience high levels of harm from their drinking. This can have a huge impact on their academic success. Orientation and other university student events, and student-oriented bars sometimes serve to highlight this.

Schools are settings in which young people spend a considerable amount of time. They are settings which have a profound influence on the physical and mental well-being of New Zealand adolescents.

Given drinking typically begins during the secondary school years (with peers playing a huge role in this), the school is an important setting to take action to prevent harm.

The Youth'19 survey found that 22% of students reported binge drinking in the last 4 weeks (28.6% Māori, 12.8% Pacific, 8.4% Asian, 24.3% European). Binge drinking (5 or more drinks on an occasion) increased with age, and prevalence was very high in the 17+ age group (42%). Students living in rural areas (26%) were more likely to binge drink than those in urban areas (19%).

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Experiencing harm reduces the likelihood of finishing school

A high-quality study which followed New Zealand and Australian children over time found that the more alcohol-related harms a young person experienced, the less likely they were to complete high school.

It has also been found that young people who use substances (including alcohol) tend to skip school more often than their peers and leave school earlier than their peers. These outcomes will have devastating effects for the young person’s success in life as well as reduce the ability of our country to reach its full potential.

The role of the school in adolescent drinking

The school environment can protect young people from harm. These factors play an important role:

  • Low levels of drinking in the school
  • Positive peer influences in relation to alcohol (e.g. having peers which abstain or intervene in their friend’s drinking)
  • Attachment to school
  • Positive teacher, learning and social connectedness
  • Early addressing of learning disabilities
  • Positive engagement with learning
  • Healthy relationships with students and teachers
  • Low availability of alcohol through school sources

Click the button below for a full-list of factors that protect young people from alcohol:


As a community, you can be very influential in reducing alcohol use and harm by school students. You can advocate for improvements to the school social environment such as increasing student participation, improving relationships and promoting a positive school ethos. For more ideas on taking action, click here.

For other information, check out the following resources: 




Alcohol use among tertiary students in New Zealand is widespread, having both short term and long term impacts.

Unfortunately, tertiary life is often perceived to be a subculture of alcohol consumption, where drinking is viewed as an intrinsic aspect of university life and a defining feature of being a student. Perceptions of tertiary drinking are well-established prior to attending tertiary study, whereby media images portray student culture as an acceptance towards binge-drinking behaviour.

Young adulthood is an age when hazardous drinking is at its highest. In 2019/20 in New Zealand, more than one-third (36.8%) young adult males aged 18 to 24 years reported hazardous drinking and 27.9% of young adult females. 

Studies in New Zealand had found that university students are almost twice as likely to drink more hazardously than their non-student peers (65% vs. 35%). Very hazardous drinking was found to be three times greater (31% vs. 9%). In another New Zealand study, 37% of female students and 39% of male students were found to drink to intoxication at least once per week. Factors associated with University drinking include: lower age, European or Maori ethnicity relative to Asian, Pacific and other ethnicities, living in halls of residences relative to other living arrangements and living in neighbourhoods with high numbers of liquor outlets.

For detailed information on tertiary drinking


Other useful resources

Alcohol Use and Tertiary Students in Aotearoa-New Zealand 

Tertiary Students and Alcohol Use in Aotearoa--New Zealand: an update of the research literature 2004-2010