Alcohol is an addictive substance and some people become dependent on it.
Addiction is a clinical diagnosis made by an appropriately qualified clinician. It is characterised by a strong desire to drink and an inability to stop drinking.
Some people who are experiencing addiction may function very well – this is usually in the earlier stages.
As their addiction progresses they may need to drink more to achieve the desired effect; and the effect of their addiction will start to increase. It will have increasing impact on their health, schooling or work, relationships and life more generally.
Professional help is usually required to address addiction.
A crisis can often prompt people to seek help. For some, an intervention is required to prompt the person to seek the help they need. Those who have sorted help for their addiction will have to plan to stop or cut back their drinking. It is important that they are supported to do this.
The 2018/19 New Zealand Health Survey showed that around 787,000 adults (or 20% of the population aged 15 years+) were classified as hazardous drinkers. More than one-third (35.4%) of 18-24 year olds adults were classified as hazardous drinkers.
Many of these will be at risk of having or developing an addiction.
Dependence / addiction
There is a lack of information on the number of New Zealanders with a diagnosis of alcohol dependence. In 2006, it was estimated that just over 4% of the population in their lifetime will experience alcohol addiction and 11% will experience alcohol abuse.
You can do a lot to support and encourage low-risk drinking among your friends and family.
Be a positive role model
- enjoy yourself without alcohol
- model how to refuse a drink/avoid pressure to drink
- if drinking, do so within the low-risk drinking guidelines
- if you are driving or responsible for looking after children, don’t drink
- if you are concerned about your drinking, seek help from your GP or other health professional. This will model help-seeking behaviour.
- be alcohol-free if you are planning to have a baby or are pregnant. Support those around you who might be pregnant by being alcohol-free too.
Spread the word - Promote informed choice
As opportunities arise, guide people in your life to relevant information on alcohol and to the low-risk drinking guidelines.
If you have a group or network that you belong to, work together to raise awareness in your community about alcohol and share relevant information and links to low-risk drinking guidelines or other tools.
See Mobilising Others for more information and support
Assist people to get the help they need
If you have any concerns about the alcohol use of people in your life, assist them or their family to get professional help.
Help can be reached at your GP/local medical centre, school counsellor or local Community Alcohol and Drug Service.
Alcohol and Drug Helpline is a useful starting point for anyone who has concerns about their own or others drinking. They will be able to support you towards the best course of action and local services including youth services - 0800 787 797.
Change the wider environment to support low-risk drinking
Taking action on environmental factors will support low-risk drinking. For example, you could foster and mobilise others to:
Low-risk drinking guidelines
A number of countries, including New Zealand, have developed advice or guidelines for Low-risk drinking.
In New Zealand, the Health Promotion Agency (HPA) provides the national low-risk alcohol drinking advice. The image below summarises HPA’s advice for adults.
There are times and circumstances when it is advisable not to drink alcohol. Do not drink alcohol if you:
- could be pregnant, are pregnant or trying to get pregnant
- are on medication that interacts with alcohol
- you have a condidtion that can be worsen by drinking alcohol
- feel unwell, depressed, tired or cold as alcohol could make things worse
- are about to operate machinery or a vehicle or do anything that is risky or requires skill.
HPA’s advice is supported by the Ministry of Health. Click on the image to go to the Health Promotion Agency's full advice on its alcohol.org.nz website.
(Courtesy of Health Promotion Agency - Alcohol.org.nz)
Advice for parents of children and young people under 18 years of age
For children and young people under 18 years of age not drinking alcohol is the safest option.
Parents and carers should be advised that children under 15 years of age are at the greatest risk of harm from drinking. For this age group, not drinking alcohol is especially important.
For young people aged 15−17 years, the safest option is to delay the initiation of drinking for as long as possible.
Advice for women who could be pregnant, are pregnant or are trying to get pregnant
Stop drinking alcohol if you could be pregnant, are pregnant or are trying to get pregnant.
There is no safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
This has been endorsed by organisations including the New Zealand College of Midwives, The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners, New Zealand Nurses Organisations. Read more..
Alcohol and breastfeeding advice
For women who are breastfeeding, not drinking is the safest option. Alcohol can reduce the amount of breast milk produced.
Alcohol can be passed on to the baby as alcohol is also excreted in breastmilk - this could cause damage to infant's developing brain.
The advice is that - if you choose to drink alcohol while breastfeeding, you may need to wait at least 2 hours for each standard drink before breastfeeding your baby. For 2 standard drinks, you may need to wait 4 hours before breastfeeding. Check out the Ministry of Health website for more information.
Supporting New Zealand drinkers to drink within the low-risk drinking guidelines
Whilst it is important that each person looks at their own drinking, and supports others to do the same, we also need our environment to support low-risk drinking.
This means we need:
Drinking regularly, even at low levels, increases your risk of long-term health harm.
For New Zealand women, cancer is the major cause of alcohol-related death. In relation to cancer, there is no safe level of alcohol consumption.
One in every 25 deaths from cancer in New Zealand are due to alcohol use (for persons <80 years). Of these, breast cancer is the most common.
Alcohol use is also linked with other long-term health conditions - liver cirrhosis, ischaemic stroke and cardiac arrhythmias.
All New Zealanders need to know the risks from drinking - it is not just hazardous or binge drinking that causes harm.
Having important conversations about alcohol use
It is important that conversations about alcohol use become a normal part of our visits to the GP, hospital, social worker, Police, children's health services, etc.
In New Zealand, many of our social and health services are learning how to have these challenging conversations.
Ideally, we want everyone to talk to each other about their alcohol use. This will start to create a discussion in our society about our drinking.
Identifying high-risk drinking / screening and offering help
Research shows that the following steps taken by a health professional can be effective to reduce alcohol use among hazardous and risky drinkers .
- Screening – screening to determine the level of hazardous drinking for an individual
- Brief Intervention – in 1-2 conversations, offering information or advice to increase a hazardous drinker’s motivation to avoid drinking and/or equip them with skills to reduce their alcohol use.
- Referral to Treatment – people who are dependent on alcohol will be referred to trained clinicians or specialist treatment facilities for treatment. This often involves a level of care outside the scope of brief services.
This pathway is commonly referred to as SBIRT or can also be known as ABC (Ask – Brief Intervention – Counselling).
The increased use of this process will mean that a greater number of people will benefit from earlier identification of their problems . It will assist drinkers in understanding that their alcohol use is likely to cause them harm.
Given so many risky drinkers do not question their drinking or access help, this process will enable everyone to access the support that they need to reduce their drinking.
For more information, please click here.