Drinking patterns among older adults (45 years or above) in New Zealand
Alcohol use among older age remains common, although decreases with advancing age. In 2017/18, the prevalence of drinking in the past year among older men and women remained high:
Hazardous drinking patterns remain prevalent throughout older New Zealanders
New Zealanders aged 45 years and above comprised almost 40% (303,000) of all hazardous drinkers in 2017/18. Whilst 18 to 24 year olds maintain the highest (31.7%) prevalence of hazardous drinking in the country, hazardous drinking patterns remain prevalent throughout older age groups in New Zealand, particularly among men. In 2017/18, the prevalence of hazardous drinking among men was:
- 29.9% among those aged 45 -54 years;
- 25.2% among those aged 55-64 years;
- 19.5% among those aged 65-74 years, and
- 9.5% for those aged 75 years and above.
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
- more than doubled for those aged 65-74 year (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 three years of comparable surveys (i.e. 2015/16, 2016/17, and 2017/18).
Other survey measures
The annual New Zealand Health Surveys utilise 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 quanitfy 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.
New Zealand drinkers have some of the highest levels of drinking
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.
High levels of alcohol use in older adults will have significant implications
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.
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 behaviors 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 account 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
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
The prevalence (%) of past-year drinking among the total population, 2017/18 NZ Health Survey.
By age-group (years)
By ethnic group (total response)
By neighbourhoood deprivation
It is important to learn about the alcohol industry as they have a large influence on national and local alcohol decisions in New Zealand.
In New Zealand, the production and sale of alcohol is a multi-billion dollar industry. The key players can be broadly categorised into four groups:
- Growers – e.g. vineyards;
- Manufacturers - wineries, breweries and distillers;
- Retail distributors - supermarkets, bottle stores, grocery stores
- Hospitality sector – cafés, restaurants, bars and clubs.
This section will focus on the alcohol industry as it relates to consumption in New Zealand.
Background: What New Zealanders drink
Because a tax is placed on all alcohol products, every 3 months (when the amount of tax paid on alcohol is released) we can see how much alcohol is available for consumption in New Zealand and how much is exported. From the domestic figures released by Statistics New Zealand, in the year 2018:
- 482.4 million litres of alcoholic drinks were available for domestic consumption:
By volume, we drink over 2.5 times as much beer than wine. However, by alcohol content or standard drinks, 12.9 million litres of pure alcohol comes from beer, 11.3 million litres from wine, and 10.5 million litres from spirits and spirit-based drinks. This totals 34.8 million litres of pure alcohol per year or 8.8 litres per person aged over 15 years. On average, this means that every New Zealander drinks almost 2 standard drinks per day. However, in reality, we know that rather than New Zealanders drinking small amounts daily, around half of all alcohol in New Zealand is consumed in heavy drinking sessions.
Generally, about 87% of all the alcohol sold in New Zealand is produced locally, and 13% is imported. Bottled spirits are more frequently imported in comparison to beer and RTDs which are often made in New Zealand. We also export about 33% of all alcohol made in New Zealand.
The largest producers of alcohol in New Zealand
The two major alcohol producers in New Zealand are Lion Pty Ltd and DB Breweries Ltd. Both companies are owned overseas. Among the top five producers, only Delegat’s wine is a New Zealand-owned company.
The beer industry
Two major breweries dominate the New Zealand beer market: Lion and DB Breweries. The key consumers of beer in New Zealand are young adult males.
Although beer became available in supermarkets in 1999, there has been a downward trend in the volume of beer sold in New Zealand, from 322.5 million litres in 2008 to 282 million litres in 2015. Since then, there appeared to have an increasing trend in the volume of beer available for consumption. In 2018, there was 293 million litres of beer was available for consumption.
Recent trends show that there has been growth in sales volumes of premium brand craft beers and also in low-strength beer (following the introduction of the lower blood alcohol limits for drivers in 2014).
The wine industry
There are almost 700 wineries in New Zealand. By far the biggest wine producers in New Zealand are Lion (Japan), Pernod Ricard (French), Treasury Estate Wines (NZ), Delegat's Wine Group (NZ), Constellation Wines (USA), and Villa Maria (NZ).
Since becoming available for sale in supermarkets in 1989, consumption of wine has more than doubled since 1984 to 95 million litres in 2009. In 2018, there was 109 million litres of wine available for consumption. New Zealand research has shown that the introduction of wine into supermarkets had a significant impact on consumption. Today, around 60% of all wine is sold through supermarkets.
Wine has shown the greatest increases in affordability over time. Today, New Zealanders drink almost twice as much white wine as red wine.
Wine contributes significantly to trade. It is New Zealand’s fifth largest export good.
It is important to note that New Zealand is only major wine producing nation to have a single industry body, representing and advocating for the interests of its entire grape and wine industry. This is called the New Zealand Winegrowers Association.
The spirits and RTD industry
In 2018, 80.3 million litres of spirits and spirit-based (RTDs) beverages were available for domestic consumption. Spirits sales increased from 9.4 million litres in 2003 to 14.2 million litres in 2018. RTD sales increased from 34.5 million litres in 2003 to 66.2 million litres in 2018 (rose 4 per cent) from the previous year.
In 2010, Minister of Justice Simon Power announced plans to prohibit the sale of RTDs with greater than 5% alcohol content or 1.5 standard drinks per container. However, this plan never came to fruition and the Government decided not to introduce regulations regarding the maximum strength of an RTD, but rather, permit manufacturers to set up their own rules. The industry decided that the maximum strength of an RTD would be 7% or two standard drinks per bottle or can.
Sprits are consumed by all age groups and across both sexes. Pure spirits are more often consumed by older age groups whilst RTDs are preferentially consumed by young men and women.
Since the introduction of RTDs the volume of spirits-based drinks has almost doubled, from 34.5 million litres in 2003 to 66.2 million litres in 2018. There is strong evidence since the introduction of RTDs into the market increased alcohol consumption markedly among young females aged 14 to 17 years.
The largest retailers of alcohol in New Zealand
In New Zealand, the purchasing of alcohol from off-licences has increased over time. From 1986 to 2016, the proportion of all alcohol sold was from off-licences increased from approximately 59% to 75%.
The 3000-plus off-licences in New Zealand comprises bottle stores, grocery stores, supermarkets, winemakers, taverns/hotels, breweries, catering companies, and others. Over one-third of off-licences are standalone bottle stores, whilst >10% are grocery stores, and >10% are supermarkets.
The supermarket (which can only sell beer, wine (includes cider) and mead) is the most widely used channel for purchasing alcohol.
Alcohol sales from supermarkets have changed considerably over time. In 2000, the supermarket share of beer sales was 12% and for wine it was 43%. In 2008, they sold around 30% of all beer and just under 60% of all wine. In 2008 it was estimated that beer and wine sales in supermarkets were worth $1billion.
There are two major supermarket chains in New Zealand: Progressive Enterprises (184 Countdown stores, 62 Fresh Choice and Supervalue stores) and Foodstuffs (140 New World stores, >50 PaknSave stores, 240 Four Square stores).
The Ministry of Justice has stated that the price is so cheap that many smaller bottle stores buy their alcohol products from supermarkets.
Today, around 250,000 residents of West Auckland cannot buy alcohol from their supermarkets as off-licence supply is controlled by the Portage and Waitakere Licensing Trusts. No supermarkets in the Invercargill Licensing Trust can sell alcohol.
There are over 1000 bottle stores in New Zealand. It is important to know that many of these are owned by larger alcohol producers and retailers.
For example, Liquorland and Henry’s Beer Wines & Spirits are owned by Foodstuffs. In 2016, Foodstuffs bought the retail chain The Mill Liquorsave from Independent Liquor Ltd, and rebranded them as Liquorland stores. Liquor King, is owned by Lion.
Hospitality sector (on-licences)
The number of on-licences has trebled from 2423 in 1990 to 7565 in 2010. From 2000 to 2009 there was a 26% increase in the number of pubs and a 37% increase in the number of licensed cafés and restaurants.
The NZ Hospitality Association plays a major role in the supply of alcohol in the on-licence sector, representing 3,000 hospitality and commercial accommodation businesses throughout the country. The Association advocates on behalf of its members. They have been involved as an interested party in the appeals to Local Alcohol Policies around New Zealand.
The Restaurant Association of New Zealand also represents the interests of those working in the restaurant business.
Costs outweigh revenue from alcohol
The revenue the Government receives from alcohol taxes does not match the costs of alcohol-related harm to our society.
Click the image to download a bigger picture
In 2017, alcohol contributed $1.0 billion of government revenue in the form of excise tax .
Alcohol misuse is estimated to cost New Zealand society $5 billion each year (expressed in 2005/06 currency) . This includes costs to individuals such as car insurance, lost wages and medical treatments, as well as cost to the government such as healthcare costs, road crashes, police and justice .
In comparison to alcohol, the social cost of other drug-related harms and intervention is estimated to be at $1.6 billion (expressed in 2005/06 currency)  and $1.8 billion in 2014/15 .
It is estimated that :
- 11% of all ACC claims are attributed to alcohol-related injuries .
- 18% of the New Zealand Police budget is spent on alcohol incidents.
Cost to productivity
Alcohol also results in loss of productivity in workplaces and schools -
- In 2012/13, male drinkers (4%) were 1.6 times more likely to be absent from work or studies than female drinkers (2.5%) ; and
- In 2012/13, male drinkers (6.9%) were 1.4 times more likely to experience negative financial effects due to their drinking than female drinkers .
- Every year, 147,500 adults take one or more days off work or school due to their alcohol use . A total of 84,400 adults have experienced harmful effects on their work, study or employment because of alcohol .
- In 2012, 6% of adolescent drinkers report having their work or school affected in the last year due to alcohol . Among those students living in the most deprived areas, 8% report problems with work or school (exacerbating existing inequities in outcomes) .
Our drinking landscape - alcohol is over-supplied and advertised heavily
Our drinking landscape has changed considerably over the last 30 years. We have seen dramatic increases in the number of places selling alcohol, the affordability and types of alcoholic products available, and use of innovative marketing strategies to advertise them.
Beginning in 1989, new liquor laws increased the availability of alcohol across New Zealand  - wine and beer became available in supermarkets and grocery stores in 1989 and 1999 respectively ; the minimum legal age to purchase alcohol was reduced from 20 to 18 years in 1999.
The number of places that sold alcohol more than doubled from to 6,300 in 1990 to 14,200 in 2009 .
Today, around 75% of all alcohol in New Zealand is sold from off-licences: 43% from bottle stores and 32% from supermarkets and grocery stores .
More liquor outlets are concentrated in poor suburbs than rich suburbs .
The increasingly availability of Ready to Drinks (RTDs) has had a huge impact on heavy drinking in New Zealand, particularly among young girls.
Alcohol has become more affordable over time .
In 2009, it was estimated that $200,000 was spent each day advertising alcohol in New Zealand .
Within prime-time television viewing in New Zealand, a scene depicting alcohol occurs every 9 minutes .
In New Zealand, $85 million is spent per week on alcohol ($4-5 billion per year).
In relation to hazardous drinking (8 points or more on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT)), in 2017/18:
- around 775,000 NZ adults were hazardous drinkers (19.8% of New Zealand adults 15 years and above)
- more than one-third (38.1%) of young men (aged 18 to 24 years) were hazardous drinkers
- males (27.3%) were twice as likely as females (12.7%) to be hazardous drinkers
- young adults aged 18 to 24 years had the highest rate (17%) of weekly heavy drinking (six or more drinks standard drinks on one occasion)
- Whilst 18 to 24 year olds maintain the highest (31.7%) prevalence of hazardous drinking in the country, hazardous drinking patterns remain prevalent throughout older age groups in New Zealand, particularly among men.
Almost 1 in 5 New Zealanders have a drinking pattern that places them and/or others at risk of harm
Check the following topics to learn more about drinking trends in New Zealand
What we drinkRead More...
Drinking in the past year
Trends in hazardous drinking
Drinking trends in adolescents
Drinking trends in older adults