Report: Women drinking more and increasing health risks

By Martin Johnston

NZ's liberal alcohol laws are one of the reasons for the rising levels of harmful drinking among women. Photo / Thinkstock
NZ's liberal alcohol laws are one of the reasons for the rising levels of harmful drinking among women. Photo / Thinkstock

A new report on women and alcohol confirms that New Zealand women are drinking more like men and that young women are consuming more than older women. And while the overall prevalence of drinking among young women and girls at high school has decreased markedly, heavy drinking and the amount consumed at a session has risen.

"Women are drinking larger amounts and more frequently than ever before, increasing their risk of a number of health concerns including breast cancer and other cancers, injuries, reproductive and sexual health problems, mental-health and alcohol-abuse disorders," said the two groups which commissioned the policy briefing paper, Alcohol Healthwatch and Women's Health Action.

The paper's authors say their research review and interviews with 41 key informants "confirmed the prominence of alcohol in sexual and domestic violence against women, and that alcohol-related violence is worsening.

"... violence is the major alcohol-related harm experienced by women and children as a consequence of the drinking of others, overwhelmingly men.

"... at least one in three cases of reported domestic violence is alcohol-affected, although the actual number is considered likely to be much higher.

"If the woman was drinking at the time of the assault it can lead to guilt or self-blame, inhibit access to justice and increase her potential for alcohol abuse. Key informants said that the woman's drinking often shifts culpability from perpetrators to victims, sometimes leading to family violence charges being downgraded."

Something similar could occur in sexual assaults and it was estimated that more than 10,000 sexual assaults occurred in New Zealand each year which involved a perpetrator who had been drinking. "Women who drink are seen as less believable and more responsible for the (sexual) assault, and men who drink as less responsible."

Alcohol Healthwatch director Rebecca Williams said New Zealand's liberal alcohol laws were one of the reasons for the rising levels of harmful drinking among women.

"Take our meaningless restrictions on alcohol advertising and absence of controls on the price, for example.

"We are recommending a range of population level interventions such as increasing the price of alcohol and restricting its marketing, as well as community and individual level interventions that respond to the specific needs of women."

The report calls for much greater use of brief interventions by GPs and other front-line health workers.

Women's alcohol intake rising

4 - Number of drinks women aged 16-24 drank at typical session in 1995.

6 - In 2000.

28 per cent of female secondary school students who were drinkers had five to nine drinks in an average session in 2001.

30 per cent - in 2012.

70 per cent of alcohol intake of girls aged 14-17 is from RTDs.

- NZ Herald

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