Case for Change

Government advice says it is safest for young people to be alcohol-free for as long as possible. 

Young people can be protected from a range of alcohol harms by being alcohol-free.

Young people experience more harm from their drinking than others.

Harms from drinking can include: brain impairment, poor mental health, alcohol dependence, death, injury, and a greater risk of not completing school.

Strong laws (e.g. relating to the purchase age, alcohol advertising and marketing, price and availability of alcohol) can greatly support young people to be alcohol-free.

Government advice

New Zealand guidelines recommend that young people delay alcohol consumption for as long as possible, particularly those under the age of 15 years.

It is further recommended that if drinking has begun, it should occur infrequently, at low levels, and under guidance.

Adolescent alcohol use

The longer a young person delays drinking, the more they are protected from alcohol harm.

Each year a young person delays drinking, they are estimated to reduce their risk of becoming dependent on alcohol by 9–21%.

Children under 15 years of age are at a very high risk of harm from drinking. Many people who are dependent on alcohol began drinking at an early age.

In a 2012/13 New Zealand survey, 42% percent of persons aged 15–17 years had first drunk alcohol before age 15 years. This was higher among Māori (50%).

A large New Zealand study found that the majority of cases of alcohol abuse and dependence are developed in adolescence and young adulthood. Almost 50% were found to be developed by the age of 20 years and 75% by the age of 25.

Adolescents experience more harm from their drinking

Young people experience many more harms from their drinking when compared to other age groups. This is partly due to the high amounts of alcohol that they drink as well as their immature bodies being unable to cope with the damaging effects of alcohol.

The risk of alcohol harm is greatest for those under 15 years old, but remains high for those aged 15−17 years.

Harms from drinking include:

  • Being less likely to finish high school
  • Increased health risks, including sexually transmitted infections, major depression, suicide
  • Irreversible impairment of brain functioning
  • Reduced performance at school and work
  • Death
  • Injury
  • Later alcohol dependence

In a New Zealand study, high school students of Māori and Pacific ethnicity and/or living in socio-economic disadvantage were more likely to report experiencing alcohol-related harms.

Strong laws can support young people to be alcohol-free

Alcohol laws are very important in preventing and reducing alcohol harm to young people. Especially laws that relate to:

  • the age at which alcohol can be legally purchased
  • alcohol advertising, marketing and sponsorship
  • the price of alcohol
  • the availability of alcohol (number of liquor outlets and opening hours).

​To ensure our laws protect young people, click here.

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