The prevalence (%) of past-year drinking among the total population, 2018/19 NZ Health Survey.
By age-group (years)
By ethnic group (total response)
By neighbourhoood deprivation
In 2018/19, almost 4 in every 5 New Zealand adults (80.3%) drank alcohol in the past year. This equates to 3,162,00 adults aged 15 years or over.
More males (84.5%) than females (76.3%) reported drinking in the past year. Click here to see the full results from the large New Zealand Health Survey.
Comparison between subgroups (adjusted by age/sex /ethnic group)
The 2018/19 New Zealand Health Survey found that:
- Men were 11% more likely to drink than women.
- Māori (total) were 4% more likely to drink than non-Māori women.
- Māori women were 7% more likely to drink than non-Māori women.
- Pacific people (total) were 25% less likely to drink than non-Pacific people
- Pacific men 21% less likely, and
- Pacific women 29% less likely.
- Asian people (total) were significantly 31% less likely to drink than non-Asian people (total)
- Asian men 22% less likely,
- and Asian females 42% less likely.
- Men/women living in the most deprived neighbourhoods were significantly less likely to drink than men/women living in the least deprived neighbourhoods.
Changes in past-year drinking over time
Past-year drinking in the total New Zealand adult population significantly decreased between 2006/07 and 2011/12, stabilised until 2017/18, and then significantly increased between 2017/18 and 2018/19.
Between 2017/18 and 2018/19, significant increases in past-year drinking were found among:
- The total NZ population (78.7% in 2017/18 to 80.3% in 2018/19)
- Total Māori population (79.7% to 83.4%)
- Māori men (80.1% to 85.3%)
- Total Pacific population (54.4% to 61.2%)
- Pacific women (49.4% to 56.4%)
- Asian women (44.5% to 49.6%)
- 75+ years olds (66.2% to 71.5%).
Click here to see the data.
Drinking patterns among adults aged 45 years and above
Alcohol use among older age remains common, although it decreases with advancing age.
In 2018/19, more than three-quarters (75%) of New Zealand adults aged 45 to 74 years reported drinking in the past year.
The prevalence of drinking in the past year among older men and women is shown below:
Hazardous drinking patterns remain prevalent throughout older New Zealanders
New Zealanders aged 45 years and above comprised almost 40% (309,000) of all hazardous drinkers in 2018/19.
Whilst 18 to 24 year olds maintain the highest (35.4%) prevalence of hazardous drinking in the country, hazardous drinking patterns remain prevalent throughout older age groups in New Zealand, particularly among men. In 2018/19, the prevalence of hazardous drinking among men was:
- 28.9% among men aged 45 -54 years;
- 26.1% among men aged 55-64 years;
- 20.2% among men aged 65-74 years, and
- 7.4% among men aged 75 years and above.
Substantial increases in hazardous drinking prevalence
Of particular concern, there have been significant increases in hazardous drinking over time among older age groups in New Zealand. Following declines in hazardous drinking between 2006/07 and 2011/12, the prevalence of hazardous drinking increased from 2011/12 to 2015/16. These increases were substantial:
- increased by more than 50% among those aged 45-54 years (11.7% to 18.5%);
- increased by more than 70% among those aged 55-64 years (8.4% to 14.4%); and
- almost doubled for those aged 65-74 years (from 5.5% to 10%).
Therefore, all of the positive reductions in drinking that had been achieved between 2006/07 and 2011/12 were lost by 2015/16. The level of increase was so great that some age groups (35-44yrs, 45-54yrs, 65-74yrs) had significantly higher levels of hazardous drinking in 2015/2016 than in 2006/07. There have been no significant changes in the prevalence of hazardous drinking in the past four years of comparable surveys (i.e. 2015/16, 2016/17, 2017/18, and 2018/19).
Should these trends continue, older people will represent a much greater proportion of hazardous drinkers in New Zealand. This is due to the population of older adults being predicted to double by the year 2036 (based on the projection from 2013). At this point, approximately 24% of the population will be aged 65 years and over. High levels of alcohol use in older populations will have significant implications on our strained healthcare system and will compromise well-being in older adults.
Other survey measures among older adults
The annual New Zealand Health Surveys utilises the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) to assess the prevalence of hazardous drinking in New Zealand. However, this test is not age-specific. Other measures have been developed to quantify alcohol use in older people. This includes the CARET (Comorbidity Alcohol Risk Evaluation) that takes into account other factors that relate to alcohol use and harm among older adults, not just an older person’s drinking frequency and quantity. A report into older people's drinking can be found here.
Comparisons with other countries
New Zealand drinkers were found to have some of the highest levels of drinking across the countries studied. The proportion of frequent heavy drinkers was higher in New Zealand compared with most countries, including England and the United States.
The differential effects of alcohol use on older adults
There is considered no safe level of alcohol use among older adults.
Older adults are more susceptible to the harmful effects of alcohol at any level of consumption. The same amount of alcohol produces a higher blood alcohol concentration in older than younger adults due to changes in body composition, leading to a longer time for the acute effects of alcohol to diminish. The ability to absorb, metabolise, and excrete alcohol remains largely unchanged with increasing age.
Conditions such as chronic health problems, medication interaction, and other risky behaviours including drinking driving, further contribute to more harmful effects of alcohol on older adults.
Although there has been debate over the potential “health benefits” from low-risk drinking (particularly for older drinkers), recent research suggests that the findings of benefit were more likely the result of methodological differences in studies and under-adjustment for confounding factors (e.g. personal characteristics, socioeconomic status) that relate to different drinking patterns within the population. It is advised that there is no overall positive health benefit for older adults from drinking.
New Zealand research supports the findings that there are differences in the characteristics of older drinkers who have moderate versus high-risk intakes. It is important to take into account of these differences when examining health outcomes from drinking. The former were more likely to be wealthier, whilst the latter were more likely to have lower levels of economic standards than other drinking profiles.
For more information, check this button RESEARCH ON OLDER NEW ZEALANDERS' ALCOHOL USE
|FACTSHEET: DRINKING IN THE PAST YEAR||FACTSHEET: HAZARDOUS DRINKING|
In 2019, 491 million litres of alcoholic drinks were available for sale in New Zealand (this is a proxy measure of the alcohol we consume):
- 298 million litres of beer;
- 108 million litres of wine;
- 85 million litres of spirits and spirit-based drinks.
This is a small (1.7%) increase from 2018 (482 million litres).
As you can see, by volume of beverage, we drink more beer, followed by wine and spirits.
However, these beverages are often different alcohol strengths (e.g. a beer can be 4% but spirits can be 40%), so the volume of what we drink doesn't tell us how much alcohol we have consumed as a country.
Consumption of the 491 million litres equated to 35 million litres of pure alcohol, or 8.9 litres of pure alcohol per person aged 15 and above. To put this into perspective, it is the same as every person aged over 18 years consuming two standard drinks per person every day of the year (i.e. 2 cans of beer (330ml, 4% alcohol) or 2 glasses of wine (12.5%; 100ml)). In reality, New Zealand drinkers don't all drink the same amount. We know that approximately 46% of all alcohol sold in New Zealand is consumed in heavy drinking occasions, ie. 8 or more standard drinks for men and 4 or more standard drinks for women.
In 2019, beer, wine and spirits contributed almost equally to our alcohol intake. Beer contributed 13.1 million litres or pure alcohol, wine 11.2 million litres, followed by spirits with 11 million litres.
New Zealanders are increasing becoming spirits drinkers - in 2004 spirits contributed 23% of pure alcohol intake, in 2019 spirits contributed 31%.
New Zealand drinking compared to other countries
New Zealanders typically drink a large amount of alcohol in a drinking occasion. Although we drink less (overall) than the Irish and British (and slightly less than Australians), we drink more than Americans, Canadians and South Africans.
We also need to note that our assessment of per capita consumption in New Zealand, when we are comparing countries, is out of date. This is because our per capita consumption calculations are not based on the alcohol content of products in our current market (the per capital calculations assume products have a lower alcohol strength than they currently do). For this reason, we believe that the per capita consumption estimate in New Zealand (of 8.9 litres per person) is likely to be an under-estimate of the true value.
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In 2018/19, 1 in 5 (20%) NZ adults were classified as hazardous drinkers. This equates to 787,000 adults aged 15 years and over.
Males were 2.1 times more likely to be classified as hazardous drinkers as females (27.5% vs 12.8%). Click here to see the full results from the New Zealand Health Survey.
Note: ‘Hazardous drinking’ refers to an established alcohol drinking pattern that carries a risk of harming the drinker’s physical or mental health or having harmful social effects on the drinker or others. It is determined by using the World Health Organisation's AUDIT checklist - a score of 8 or more indicates hazardous drinking.
Comparison between subgroup (adjusted by age/sex/ethnic group):
The 2018/19 New Zealand Health Survey found that:
- Males were 2.1 times more likely to drink hazardously than females
- Māori males were 1.4 times more likely to drink hazardously than non-Māori males
- Māori females were 2.1 times more likely to drink hazardously than non-Māori females
- New Zealanders living in the most deprived neighbourhoods were 1.2 times more likely to drink hazardously than those in the least deprived
- Asian males were 73% less likely and Asian females were 87% less likely than non-Asian males and females to drink hazardously
Trends in hazardous drinking
Please note that due to changes in the NZ Health Survey, comparisons between years in hazardous drinking prevalence can only be done in the following time periods:
From 2006/07 to 2011/12, the proportion of adults classified as hazardous drinkers significantly decreased from 18.0% to 14.9%. Large reductions were noted in adolescents and young adults. By 2015/16, most of the positive reductions made between 2006/07 and 2011/12 had been lost (except among young people). Rather, many groups had a higher prevalence of hazardous drinking in 2015/16 than in 2006/07 (i.e. Māori women, European/other, middle-aged and older-aged adults).
Since 2015/16, the overall prevalence of hazardous drinking has stabilised in the overall population - from 20.8% in 2015/16 to 20% in 2018/19. During this period, no significant changes in hazardous drinking have occurred in any group characterised by age, sex, or ethnicity.
An increasing proportion of hazardous drinkers are women
The proportion of all hazardous drinkers that are women increased from 28.5% in 2011/12 to 31.6% in 2015/16.
Significantly more Māori women were drinking hazardously in 2015/16 (29.4%) than in 2006/07 (24.2%). From 2015/16 and onwards, there have been no significant changes in hazardous drinking in Māori women in the past four years of comparable surveys (i.e. 2015/16, 2016/17, 2017/18, and 2018/19).
Trends over time by age-groups
By age, 15-34 years
From 2006/07 to 2011/12, large reductions in hazardous drinking were noted in adolescents (15-17 year olds) and young adults (18-24 year olds). Both groups maintained their lower levels of hazardous drinking, and by 2015/16 the prevalence of hazardous drinking was significantly lower when compared to 2006/07. However, the prevalence remained unacceptably high.
Click this button for more information on TRENDS IN ADOLESCENT DRINKING.
35 years and over
Older groups moved in a different direction. Following declines in hazardous drinking between 2006/07 and 2011/12, the prevalence of hazardous drinking increased from 2011/12 to 2015/16. These increases were substantial among the age-group of 45-54 years, 55-64 years and 65-74 years.
Therefore, all of the positive reductions in drinking that had been achieved between 2006/07 and 2011/12 were lost by 2015/16. Of particular concern, the level of increase was so great that some age groups (35-44yrs, 45-54yrs, 65-74yrs) had significantly higher levels of hazardous drinking in 2015/2016 than in 2006/07.
Click this button for more information on DRINKING TRENDS IN OLDER ADULTS
Trends in hazardous drinking have stabilised in the past four years of comparable surveys (i.e. 2015/16, 2016/17, 2017/18, and 2018/19).
Trends over time by ethnic groups and neighbourhood deprivation
Persistent inequities remain for Māori and deprived population. From 2006/07 to 2011/12, the proportion of hazardous drinkers decreased in most of the ethnic groups. By 2015/16, the positive reductions made between 2006/07 and 2011/12 had been lost. Hazardous drinking among Māori women significantly increased in 2015/16 when compared to 2006/07.
The ratio of inequity in hazardous drinking is the highest for Māori women and for women living in neighbourhoods with high deprivation (in comparison to the relevant reference group).
The prevalence (%) of hazardous drinking in the total population in 2017/18 is shown below:
By age-group (years)
By ethnic group (total response)
By neighbourhood deprivation