Ladies' nights out let Kiwi women drown sorrows

By Susan Edmunds

Susan Edmunds goes pub crawling to find out what Kiwi women think about alcohol.

Sophie Harpur, left, Lana van Bergenhenegouwen, Anna Jensen and Harsha Dahya at Shadows Bar. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Sophie Harpur, left, Lana van Bergenhenegouwen, Anna Jensen and Harsha Dahya at Shadows Bar. Photo / Steven McNicholl

Student bar Shadows, at the University of Auckland campus, is sparsely populated at 10pm on a Wednesday. Three groups of young people sit around tables, sipping glasses of beer poured from the bar's ubiquitous jugs - or from slim-line cans of RTDs.

A young woman is on stage, belting out occasional words as she seemingly regrets trying to tackle the karaoke version of a Beyonce song.

Lana van Bergenhenegouwen, and her friends Harsha Dahya, Sophie Harpur and Anna Jensen, are celebrating, having ticked off another university assignment.

They say this isn't as frequent an occurrence as one might think. They probably hit the bars once a week, and don't really drink at home.

But when they do go out, they like to have enough to drink to feel the effects.

Says Jensen: "I think guys just have a beer to enjoy it but I don't enjoy the taste of alcohol, so unless I'm going out I wouldn't drink."

New research from Massey University shows that young, female drinkers consume more alcohol than older drinkers.

But more older women drink.

Researcher Taisia Huckle, from the Social and Health Outcomes Research and Evaluation Centre (Shore), says the proportion of women under 24 who drink has been declining since 2000, but those who do drink have on average four drinks a session, compared with 2.5 drinks for all women aged 16 to 65.

Compared to 2000, women aged under 24 are now drinking more each time they do.

More of them are reporting that they drink more than five drinks in one go at least once a week.

About 11 per cent of all women drink more than five drinks in one session at least once a week, but about 28 per cent of women aged 24 to 28 say the same thing.

Huckle said she had not drawn conclusions but RTDs - sometimes described as cocktails with training wheels - helped attract younger drinkers.

The first-year students are not worried about how much they drink, although Jensen, 18, says there have been a couple of times when she's overdone the booze and been left feeling more than a bit rough. Living in a university hall of residence, though, it probably comes with the territory.

Women drink about one-third of the alcohol consumed in New Zealand.

Van Bergenhenegouwen says young men and women seem to have quite different attitudes.

Women are more likely to want to drown their sorrows while the guys are just out to have fun, she says.

"Men drink to have a good time but women tend to for different reasons, like when they're having personal issues or want to forget about something."

Though older women are unlikely to be going out for big nights on the town, more are reaching for a glass of wine more frequently.

Huckle's research showed that compared with 2000, women aged 35 to 44 now drink more often and increasing numbers are drinking more than five drinks per session at least once a week.

At Auckland's Sale St, near Victoria Park, women enjoying a calmer night out can relate to the culture of cracking open a bottle after work.

Kelly Renault, 34, says an evening out with her friend, Amber Graham, is a rare treat when the kids and husbands are at home. "Men tend to binge but women might sip a wine while cooking dinner, or have one with their meal," she says.

Neither woman thinks that sort of drinking is a problem.

People expect women who have jobs that require a lot of socialising and networking to be big alcohol drinkers, says Anna Rutherford, 42, out with her friends Jo Ropitini, 48, and Stacey Palmer, who is in her 30s.

"I think we judge women who drink much more harshly," she says, "Some women drink and know their limits and that's fine, but others get trashy and you think, 'You're just making a fool of yourself now'.

"I've got friends from the [United States] who think we all should be in Alcoholics Anonymous."

- Herald on Sunday

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