Stay safe with alcohol

Alcohol is a drug that has a significant effect on the level of violence in New Zealand. It’s a major factor in family violence, street violence and sexual offending, and contributes to road crashes and property damage.

Its effects are wide-reaching and devastating for too many families. More deaths and injuries involve alcohol than any other drug.

Of all reported crime, the police say alcohol is a factor in:

  • a third of all violence
  • a third of all family violence
  • half of all serious violence
  • half of all drugs and anti-social offences
  • at least 1 in 5 cases of sexual offending
  • 1 in 4 traffic offences
  • 1 in 4 property offences.

It’s also a factor in 1 in 5 traffic crashes. Alcohol-related issues use up at least 18 percent of the total police budget.

Alcohol has been a part of socialising in New Zealand since the early settlers arrived in the mid-1800s. Nearly 200 years later, a culture of “binge drinking” has emerged, especially with many young people.

Having a good time doesn’t need to involve copious amounts of alcohol. Binge drinking is not fun – it can cause severe drunkenness, vomiting, shakiness, headaches and bad hangovers. Binge drinkers are at risk of alcohol poisoning, which can lead to coma or even death. Heavy or regular drinkers also risk long-term damage to their liver, brain, lungs, heart, and stomach, as well as an increased risk of cancer. They also risk becoming dependent on alcohol.

If you’re having trouble enjoying yourself without a drink, you could have a problem.

The Health Promotion Agency (HPA) – which has taken over the functions of the old Alcohol Advisory Council – suggests that you should ask yourself:

  • Do I find it difficult to stop drinking once I start?
  • Does bad stuff often happen when I drink?
  • Have I ever come around in A&E?
  • Has drinking got me in trouble with the law?
  • Do I suffer monster hangovers?
  • Does drinking cause trouble with whānau/family?
  • Does drinking get in the way of work?
  • Do I seem to never have any money?
  • Do I want to change my drinking habits?

If you can answer yes to any of these questions you probably have a problem. If you want to make some changes, take a look at or call the Alcohol Drug Helpline (0800 787 797).

The HPA suggests that if you would like to cut down:

  • Work out a personal limit per day, per week or per occasion – and stick to it.
  • Do more activities that don’t involve drinking.
  • Ring the Alcohol Drug Helpline for free, confidential advice and resources to help you cut down.

When you’re out drinking:

  • Eat before you drink and while you’re drinking.
  • Start with non-alcoholic drinks and alternate with alcoholic drinks.
  • Try drinks with a lower alcohol content, but don’t make that an excuse for drinking more.
  • Drink slowly.
  • Don’t allow others to top up your drink.
  • Count your drinks and stick to your limit.
  • Tell your friends that you’re cutting down.
  • Don’t drive.

Don’t drink if:

  • You’re pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant.
  • You’re on medication or if you have a condition made worse by drinking.
  • You feel unwell, depressed, tired or cold as alcohol could make things worse.
  • You’re about to operate machinery or a vehicle or do anything that is risky or requires skill.

Parents of teens

For children and young people under 18 years of age, not drinking alcohol is the safest option. Young people under the age of 15 are at the greatest risk of harm from drinking alcohol and not drinking for them is especially important. For those aged 15 to 17 years, the safest option is to delay drinking for as long as possible.

If 15-17 year-olds do drink alcohol, they should be supervised, drink infrequently and at moderate levels. Be aware that teenagers are likely to at least try drinking alcohol and might get drunk. Being a good role model will help, and discussing alcohol rationally at a quiet moment (not when they’re drunk) will help. If you do find a teen rolling drunk and unconscious, call 111 for an ambulance.

If they’re vomiting all the time, don’t leave them alone. Lie them on their side in the recovery position, monitor their breathing and heart rate and make sure their mouth is empty. Keep them warm. If there’s no improvement, dial 111 for an ambulance.

Set ground rules for parties and stick to them.

If they take your alcohol, treat it just like any other stealing in the family. Discuss what happened and follow through with reasonable consequences.

If they become violent when drunk, don’t put up with it. If you can’t control the situation, call someone who can come quickly, like a friend or the police.

Signs of alcohol abuse

Signs that a teenager might be drinking excessively include:

  • Repeated health complaints like vomiting.
  • Changes in sleep patterns.
  • Mood changes, especially irritability.
  • Starting arguments, withdrawing from the family or breaking family rules.
  • Failing exams, missing assignments, frequent school absences or discipline problems at school.
  • Changes in social activities and social groups or friends.
  • Coming home drunk.
  • Smell of alcohol on their clothes, breath, skin, etc.
  • Missing sport, school, family events, etc.
  • Changes in behaviour – not being where they say they are going to be, etc.

These signs don’t necessarily indicate a drink problem, so consider discussing your concerns with your GP to rule out other causes. If you need more help, ring the Alcohol Drug Helpline.

How to get help – useful information and tips on alcohol, and a quiz to see if your drinking is OK – New Zealand Drug Foundation 0800 787 797 – Alcohol Drug Helpline