A significant drop in the number of drunk teenagers out and about on Tauranga streets has been noticed by the city's youth drug and alcohol services.
Get Smart Tauranga Drug and Alcohol Services manager Stuart Caldwell said volunteers working with the organisation's Street Help van had noticed markedly fewer young people drunk on the city's streets than there were two years ago.
In March 2010 Mr Caldwell told the Bay of Plenty Times children as young as 12 were being found drunk on Tauranga streets after consuming up to 18 standard drinks in a night.
Four years on the situation on the street seemed to have improved with teens instead preferring to drink at home, he said.
"The youngest of those that are there now would be 14 to 15," Mr Caldwell said.
"There is a definite decline in young people, under 18s, on the streets.
We speculate they are now drinking at home. It is still happening but not as much.
"The situation has improved on the streets but the question is has it really improved or is the street scene now just more controlled and not as user friendly for underage teens? We suspect the latter."
Health Promotion Agency general manager policy, research and advice Dr Andrew Hearn said there had been a large drop in teenage drinking throughout the country during the last few years.
Figures from the study Hazardous Drinking in 2011/12: Findings from the New Zealand Health Survey showed the number of people who had drunk alcohol in the past year decreased generally across all age groups but the largest drop was among youth aged 15 to 17 whose rate fell from 75 per cent in 2006/07 to 59 per cent in 2011/12.
Mr Hearn said the Youth 2012 survey of secondary school students also showed a significant decline in alcohol use by students while binge drinking also followed a similar downward trend with 40 per cent of students reporting binge drinking in the last four weeks in 2001, compared with 34 per cent in 2007 and 23 per cent in 2012.
The survey showed 60 per cent of teenagers got alcohol from their parent while 44 per cent said friends got it for them, he said.
Mr Hearn said he was hopeful the recent introduction of new laws around the sale and supply of alcohol to minors would lead to further improvements in the drinking patterns of those under 18.
Case manager at SORTED, the Bay of Plenty District Health Board's youth alcohol and drug service, David Gilmour said the agency had received about 400 referrals for patients under 18 in the last year, most of whom were seeking treatment for alcohol or cannabis use.
The earlier people were introduced to alcohol the greater the chance of problematic use later in life, he said.
"The higher the age barriers are to use or purchase the better. The lower the age of drinkers the more likely it is that there will be negative consequences, including assaults."
Results from a University of Otago study released this week showed the number of assaults by 15 to 19-year-old males in New Zealand increased after the drinking age was lowered to 18 in 1999.