Trends in adolescent drinking in New Zealand

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

The 2022/23 New Zealand Health Survey showed that 50.9% of 15-17 year olds reported drinking in the last 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

We have witnessed significant declines in the prevalence of adolescents being classified as hazardous drinkers. 

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.

The prevalence of hazardous drinking from the New Zealand Health Survey is shown below. The prevalence of hazardous drinking among 15-17 year olds almost halved from 2006/07 to 2015/16.

Because the survey question changed in 2015/16, comparisons can only be made from 2015/16 onwards. This shows the following:

The 2022/23 New Zealand Health Survey shows that 6.3% of 15-17 year olds self-report as hazardous drinkers. This is an increase from 5.9% in 2021/22 but a decrease from 11.8% in 2019/20 and 10.2% in 2020/21. By sex, 5% of adolescent boys and 7.5% adolescent girls aged 15 to 17 years were classified as hazardous drinkers in 2022/23. 

Drinking 6+ drinks on one occasion in the last month, among 15-17 year olds

Six point four percent of adolescents (15-17 years) reported consuming 6 or more standard drinks on one occasion in the last month in 2022/23.  In this age bracket, 3.9% of adolescent boys and 9% of adolescent girls drank heavily (6+ drinks on one occasion) at least monthly.

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. More than one-third of all students in 2019 were at a high risk or a very high risk of alcohol-related harm. Younger students under sixteen years generally experienced more harm per drink than older students.

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