Drinking trends in adolescents

Drinking in the past year, among 15-17 year olds

The 2022/23 New Zealand Health Survey showed that 50.9% reported drinking in the last year.

Around half of New Zealanders aged 15 to 17 years (50.9%) have consumed alcohol in the past year

This equates to 105,000 young people, which is 59,000 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 2017/18 and 2021/22 to 2022/23, there have been no significant changes in hazardous drinking among 15-17 year olds (11.8% in 2019/20 vs 10.2% in 2020/21). By sex, 5.0% of adolescent boys and 7.5% adolescent girls aged 15 to 17 years were classified as hazardous drinkers in 2022/23. 

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. 
  • The rate for 2022/23 (6.3%) is similar to 2021/22 (5.9%). This represents a decrease from 2019/20 (11.8%).

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

In 2020/21: 

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

More information on drinking in young people can be found here.

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