The prevalence (%) of past-year drinking among the total population, 2020/21 NZ Health Survey.
By age-group (years)
By ethnic group (total response)
By neighbourhoood deprivation
Drinking in the past year, among 15-17 year olds
The 2020/21 New Zealand Health Survey showed that 59.3% reported drinking in the last year.
Around than 3 in every 5 New Zealanders aged 15 to 17 years (59.3%) has consumed alcohol in the past year
This equates to 118,000 young people, which is 46,000 less than in 2006/07 (164,000)!
This is a fantastic change to see - but we still have a long way to go as over half of all young people in this age group are drinking. The New Zealand low-risk drinking guidelines recommend that for young people aged 15 to 17 years, the safest option is to delay drinking for as long as possible.
Hazardous drinking, among 15-17 year olds
From 2019/20 to 2020/21, there was no significant change in hazardous drinking among 15-17 year olds (11.8% in 2019/20 vs 10.2% in 2020/21). By sex, 9.5% of adolescent boys and 11% adolescent girls aged 15 to 17 years were classified as hazardous drinkers in 2020/21.
Around 1 in every 10 New Zealanders aged 15 to 17 years (10.2%) has a hazardous drinking pattern that places themselves and others at risk of harm
In the past decade, we have witnessed significant declines in the prevalence of adolescents being classified as hazardous drinkers.
- From 2006/07 to 2015/16, the prevalence of hazardous drinking among 15-17 year olds almost halved.
- From 2015/16 to 2020/21, there is no significant change in the overall prevalence of hazardous drinking among 15-17 year olds despite random fluctuations in 2019/20 and 2020/21. There need further surveys to determine if this is a real trend.
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.
Because the survey question changed in 2015/16, comparisons can only be made from 2015/16 onwards.
Drinking 6+ drinks on one occasion, among 15-17 year olds
- The prevalence of consuming 6+ alcoholic drinks on one occasion, at least monthly, was 7.8% among adolescent boys, and 10.4% among adolescent girls
- The prevalence of consuming 6+ alcoholic drinks on one occasion, at least weekly, was 3.8% among adolescent boys and 3.1% among adolescent girls
Other surveys of young people
The National Youth Health Survey provides excellent data on drinking among a representative sample of secondary schools students in Aotearoa New Zealand.
In 2001, four in every ten students (40%) were binge drinking at least once per month, decreasing to 34.4% in 2007.
Following 2007, there have been continued declines in the the number of adolescents drinking, and among those that do drink, the number of drinking occasions per month is declining.
In 2007, 61% of all students were current drinkers - this declined to 45% in 2012. The prevalence of weekly drinking declined from 17.8% in 2007 to 8.3% in 2012.
The prevalence of binge drinking was 34% in 2007, declining to 23% in 2012.
In 2019, the Rangatahi Youth Survey found the prevalence of binge drinking continued to decline from 2007 to 2019. Because the survey methods changed, data were recalibrated to ensure comparisons between years was possible. The new results showed that binge drinking prevalence was 34% in 2001, 36% in 2007, 25% in 2012 and 22% in 2019.
1 in every 5 New Zealand secondary school students (all years) reports binge drinking at least once per month
Why are young people drinking less?
The reasons for the fewer drinking occasions in New Zealand has been studied - the strongest independent contributor to the decline was a change in adolescent attitudes toward alcohol use, followed by current cannabis use, then current tobacco use. Collectively, general factors in home, school and leisure settings did not significantly contribute to the downward trend in binge drinking.
Impact of liberalisation of alcohol policies in the 1990s
During this time, adolescents drank more often and heavier amounts in a drinking occasion. From 1995 to 2000, females 18-19 years of age showed the largest increases in the prevalence of drinking, the number of occasions drinking in a year, and the amount consumed in an occasion. These marked increases were likely to have followed the new Sale of Liquor Act (1989) and its subsequent amendments in 1999. The increases also co-incide with the introduction of Ready to Drinks (RTDs).
In 1999, the minimum legal purchase age was reduced from 20 to 18 years. Research showed this this law change was associated with an increase in a number of alcohol-related harms for young people, including alcohol-related hospitalisations, prosecutions for driving with excess alcohol and disorder, and traffic crashes.
Following the turn of the century, the early 2000s saw some changes in adolescent drinking. By 2004, the number of current drinkers was declining in both girls and boys. However, the usual amount of alcohol consumed in a drinking occasion had not changed.
For more information on adolescent drinking, click the button ADOLESCENT DRINKING
The prevalence (%) of hazardous drinking in the total population in 2020/21 is shown below:
By age-group (years)
By ethnic group (total response)
By neighbourhood deprivation
It is great that you want to take action to protect your family / whānau. Here's some tips to start your journey.
Alcohol is a toxin – This is particularly important in relation to children and young people. They will be more affected by any alcohol consumption they consume. Higher strength alcohol products, such as spirits, present a greater risk in relation to poisoning.
Alcohol products and packaging are part of the marketing – Alcohol producers and marketers aim to make their products as appealing as possible to current and potential consumers. Young peoples’ exposure to alcohol marketing is known to speed up the onset of drinking and increase the amounts consumed by those already drinking.
Exposure to alcohol advertising often occurs in homes - a substantial proportion of exposure to alcohol advertising occurs in private homes. This may occur via television, computers/tablet screens and mobile devices.
Almost every New Zealand drinker consumes alcohol in their home or in another’s home. The COVID-19 pandemic has likely embedded home drinking for many New Zealanders.
Family homes play a major role in children and young person's exposure to alcohol. Many parents report being drunk or tipsy in front of their children.
Children report negative feelings when being around their parents who are drinking.
The home may also be an avenue for exposure to alcohol sponsorship - through merchandise / posters / etc.
There are many actions that can be taken at home to protect family/whānau members and visitors.
Alcohol in the home
Between 2012 and 2013, over 9 in 10 adult drinkers (96%) had consumed alcohol in their home or in another’s home in New Zealand. In 2010 in New Zealand, 73% of the total volume of absolute alcohol was consumed in private homes (own home, other's homes).
Therefore, the home has a significant influence on children's and young people's experiences and exposures to alcohol. How they see drinking happen at home will become their expectations and own norms for drinking.
As seen in the young people section of this website, adolescents commonly report consuming alcohol with friends (83%) followed by family (53%). Many more students who live in deprived neighbourhoods (59%) report drinking with their family when compared to those living in the least deprived neighbourhood (49%).
In a UK survey of 1,000 parents, almost one-third (29%) of parents reported having been drunk in front of their child; more than half (51%) of parents reported being tipsy in front of their kids.
In this study, almost one-third (29%) of parents thought it was okay to get drink in front of their kids as long as it did not happen regularly. The same survey also found that children could feel negative towards parents' drinking behaviours. For example, around one in five (18%) of children had felt embarasssed and one in 10 (11%) had felt worried.
Last but not least, it is known that one of the factors that contributes to earlier drinking and progression to binge drinking in adolescents is owning alcohol-branded merchandise in homes. This merchandise is commonly found in home settings, as shown in New Zealand research. Please check out the subsection on advertising and sponsorship for more information about exposure to alcohol marketing in our home.
It is is great that you want to take action in this important area. Here are some key steps to help you in your journey.
Here's what you need to know about alcohol in school and tertiary settings:
Young people experience high levels of alcohol-related harm. Places where young people spend a lot of time need to promote health and well-being, rather than increase risk for a young people to experience harm.
Schools play important functions in the wider community, and are often a hub for community gatherings. Sometimes these involve alcohol. Some schools have licences to sell/serve alcohol, others use alcohol sales as a fund-raising activity. School balls have also caused concern. More recently, Councils are adopting measures which prohibit special licences for child-focused events.
Tertiary students are among our heaviest drinking groups in New Zealand. They experience high levels of harm from their drinking. This can have a huge impact on their academic success. Orientation and other university student events, and student-oriented bars sometimes serve to highlight this.
Many communities are taking action to address drinking in public places. Here's how you can take action.