New research shows alcohol causes most harm to innocent victims

By Vaimoana Tapaleao, Jamie Morton

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Stark new research has laid bare alcohol's toll on innocent victims, with liquor playing a major part in large numbers of murders, fires, car crashes, random assaults and violence in the home.

It has found harm caused to Kiwis by others' drinking was worse than that to the drinkers themselves - and that our efforts to fully gauge the problem have been inadequate.

Experts say the research has raised the need to start treating the issue far more seriously, one telling the Weekend Herald that New Zealand is "in denial" over drinking.

Published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, the study showed how thousands of New Zealanders become unwitting victims in alcohol-related incidents each year.

According to the study, about 40 per cent of people injured and 25 per cent of those killed in car accidents where alcohol was a factor had not been the drinker responsible.

Where children were involved, virtually all of those injured in such accidents had been in the car where the driver had been the drinker.

Statistics sourced from police further found alcohol contributed to offences by strangers (31 per cent), incidents where police had to use force (59 per cent) and in homicides (49 per cent).

The number of victims in alcohol-related fatal housefires were similarly high, with the number of secondary victims - almost half of them children - accounting for a quarter of deaths.

The few studies researchers could find specifically measuring alcohol's harm to children included a survey that found 17 per cent of respondents with children in the household reported children had been "negative affected" by the drinking of someone else over the space of a year. The researchers highlighted a lack of information and data contributed to weak policy response and made advocacy difficult.

"Where interventions are being developed and implemented, monitoring of effectiveness is hampered, and patchy information creates the misperception that the issues that are best measured are the most important," they said. Until the effects on others were properly measured, the burden of alcohol in communities would continue to be underestimated.

National Addiction Centre director Professor Doug Sellman told the Weekend Herald that New Zealand had not heard enough about alcohol's innocent victims. Particularly, the lack of evidence concerning children was "scandalous".

A bigger focus on alcohol's innocent victims would stir action, he said. "But where we are with alcohol is where we were with cigarettes back in the 1970s.

"I think we are in denial about alcohol. As a country, we've got a heavy drinking culture but we just don't really want to believe it. We're in love with alcohol."

The Drug Foundation's executive director, Ross Bell, also wanted better monitoring. "The understanding of the concept is certainly out there, but in terms of the violence associated with alcohol, we really haven't tried to put measurements on some of those things."

With the Government about to have the final reading of the Alcohol Reform Bill, aimed at reducing harm, Mr Bell said the issue couldn't be more timely. Another study published this week found one in three Kiwis had hurt themselves with their own drinking, with young Maori men or those living in low socio-economic areas most at risk.

- NZ Herald

Your views

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf01 at 30 Dec 2014 01:36:46 Processing Time: 450ms