There are many, many direct and indirect harms resulting from alcohol use. A meta-analysis of literature on alcohol-related diseases indicates that alcohol use increases the risk of over 200 health conditions, both chronic and acute conditions, and injuries.
Drinkers should be aware that the harms are both acute and chronic, and don’t just relate to heavy drinking. Regular consumption of alcohol at low levels can also cause significant harm.
Alcohol harms are more prevalent among drinkers living in the most deprived areas. This can further exacerbate existing social, health and economic inequities.
In 2007, research estimated that 802 New Zealanders under 80 years old died from alcohol. This equates to more than one in every 20 deaths in this age group, or at least two deaths per day. *note: there is no current up-to-date estimate of deaths available (yet).
More than 800 NZers die every year from alcohol - this is likely an underestimate
- Injuries were responsible for 43% of alcohol-related deaths
- Cancers were responsible for 30% of alcohol-related deaths
- Other long-term diseases (e.g. liver disease, pneumonia) accounted for 27% of alcohol-related deaths
Men were twice as likely to die from alcohol than women.
Alcohol is a Group 1 carcinogen. This means there is sufficient evidence to conclude that alcohol causes cancer in humans. Other Group 1 carcinogens include asbestos, arsenic, tobacco smoke, Ionizing radiation, vinyl chloride and ultraviolet radiation A, B & C. Unfortunately, many New Zealanders are unaware of the alcohol and cancer links.
Alcohol consumption can increase your risk of the following seven types of cancers:
- breast (female)
In 2007, 30% of all alcohol-attributable deaths were from cancer. This was higher for women (44%) than men (23%).
More NZ women die from cancer as a result of drinking than from any other cause
One in every 25 deaths from cancer in New Zealand are due to alcohol use (for persons <80 years).
In New Zealand, half of all cancer deaths from alcohol were found to be due to an average consumption of less than 4 standards drinks per day (i.e. 4 x 330ml (4%) beer or 4 x 100ml (12.5%) wine).
Of the cancer deaths caused by alcohol, breast cancer is most common. More than one-third of alcohol-related breast cancer deaths in New Zealand women were found to be attributable to regular consumption of less that two standard drinks per day.
Watch the video to learn about alcohol and cancer risks - WA Alcohol and Drug Office 'Spread' ad by The Brand Agency
Injuries and road crashes
Over the years 2014–2016, alcohol and drugs contributed to 29% of all fatal road crashes in NZ. As crash severity increases, so does the contribution of alcohol/drugs.
Among young adults aged between 15 and 29 years, road traffic injuries led to more than half of alcohol-attributable deaths followed by self-inflicted injuries.
For every 100 alcohol or drug-impaired drivers or riders who died on New Zealand roads, 37 of their passengers and 19 sober road users died with them. Click here to read more.
Emergency Department presentations
Research in Auckland City Hospital from November 2017 to October 2018 found that 5,130 (7%) of the 73,381 Emergency Department (ED) presentations were alcohol-related. The majority were male (65%) and aged 20-39 (52%). Alcohol-related presentations were more frequent at night, during the weekends, public holidays and over the summer months. In total, 16% of injury-related presentations were alcohol-related. Alcohol-related presentations commonly arrived at the ED via emergency services and had a longer length of stay than non-alcohol-related presentations.
Counties Manukau District Health Board, in their analysis of ED and hospital admissions in 2018 found the following:
- There were 4,217 ‘alcohol-involved ED encounters’ in 2018, accounting for 3.6% of all Middlemore ED presentations in 2018, and 4.5% of all ED presentations in people aged 15 years or more.
- ED presentations were higher among males, Māori, 15-44 year olds, and those living in the most socioeconomically deprived communities experiencing harm from alcohol.
- There were 2,877 ‘alcohol-involved hospital admissions’ to Middlemore Hospital in 2018, accounting for 3.0% of all hospital admission events to Middlemore Hospital in 2018, and 4.3% of acute hospital admission events.
- A higher rate of admissions was found among males, Māori, Pacific Peoples, NZ European/Other (non-Māori/non-Pacific/non-Asian) ethnic groups, people aged 15-24 years, and those living in the most socioeconomically deprived communities.
- The cost associated with alcohol-involved ED encounters and hospital admissions was estimated to be just under $15 million, which was 3.4% of total cost of all ED encounters and hospital admissions in 2018. However, using other economic analyses the true cost was estimated to be much higher (estimate 1: $21.0 million; estimate 2: $25.8 million).
Another study over 42 8-hour shifts between 15 November 2013 and 9 December 2013 found that alcohol-related presentations accounted for 10% of all presentations in the emergency department on a Saturday, increasing up to 25% during the night shift.
Another survey conducted in 2019, at 2:00 am Saturday 21 December one in seven (16%) admissions to the ED were related to alcohol. This compared to around one in eight in Australia (13%).
Enough is Enough: Alcohol Harm in our Emergency Departments from ACEM Digital Media on Vimeo.
Suicide and low mental health
Alcohol is a major risk factor for suicide ideation, suicide attempt and completed suicide. An OIA to Coronial Services found that, in 2017, over one-third of people (31%) who committed suicide in New Zealand had alcohol in their system (and a further 26% had traces of alcohol in their system).
Among those who had attempted suicide and were admitted to an Emergency Department in 1999, alcohol was present for 29% of the presentations.
Alcohol can also impact mental health. Mental health problems not only result from drinking too much alcohol, they can also cause people to drink too much. Read more here.
Many New Zealanders drink to cope, manage stress, deal with anxiety or depression or other mental health issues. As shown on the Alcohol Change UK website, overuse of alcohol can worsen the symptoms of many mental health issues - it can lead to anxiety and a low mood.
The New Zealand Police recognise that alcohol is one of the major drivers of violence in our country. In 2018, Police investigated 133,022 incidents of family violence. Responding to family violence accounts for 41 percent of a frontline police officer's time.
For the month of August in 2018, 31% (n=3,351 of 10,982) of family harm investigations in New Zealand were reported as involving alcohol and/or drug use. There were 895 additional investigations where alcohol or drug use could have been involved. It should be noted that that
not all family harm incidents are reported.
In the Auckland region, children have been found to be present in up to 69% of family violence incidents that were investigated by the Police.
Children are also at high risk of death from maltreatment when they live with caregivers who abuse alcohol. In one New Zealand study, 17% of respondents who had a heavy drinker in their life reported that their children were negatively affected (e.g., being verbally abused, witnessed
violence) by this person’s drinking.
Māori women, in particular, are more likely to experience violence committed by someone under the influence of alcohol.
Child wellbeing can also be compromised when hazardous drinking and alcohol-related harm affect caregivers’ work attendance and employment, exacerbating the risks of family poverty. Exposure to violence has been shown to impact brain development in children. In a longitudinal study, children who had witnessed violence against their mother scored lower on cognitive measures, with the effects being strongest in those traumatised in the first two years of life.
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)
Between 600 to 3,000 babies are born each year in New Zealand with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. For more information, click here.
Adolescent brain development and school completion
There is no safe level of consumption for adolescents given the irreversible effects of alcohol on brain development. As the amount of alcohol consumed increases, declines in memory recall and learning are shown. Female adolescent brains are particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of alcohol.
The more alcohol-related harms a young New Zealander experiences, the less likely they are to finish high school.