Simon Plumb is a journalist for the Herald on Sunday

Kiwi teens admit to 'risky' levels of binge drinking

Quarter of drinkers aged 15-17 in survey face danger of alcohol poisoning.
Quarter of drinkers aged 15-17 in survey face danger of alcohol poisoning.

More than a quarter of Kiwi drinkers aged 15-17 say they downed eight or more drinks the last time they touched alcohol.

New data released by Crown entity the Health Promotion Agency has analysed the consumption habits of 4005 youths "during their last drinking occasion".

Over half of those who admitted drinking were classed by the HPA as consuming alcohol at a "risky level" - with 28 per cent reporting between five and seven drinks and 27 per cent saying they drank eight or more.

Ready to drink (RTDs) and beer were the most popular choice, with spirits the third most frequent drink type.

Alcohol Healthwatch director Rebecca Williams says for people between 15-17 to be consuming eight drinks at a time is seriously concerning and puts them at risk of alcohol poisoning.

"There are both short and long-term risks there. Obviously the immediate ones are they will be incredibly intoxicated, moving towards not being able to make any rational decisions about whether to continue drinking, how they get themselves home and who they go off with," Williams said.

"They are not in a safe space to take care of themselves. They are immediately vulnerable and if they continue drinking they are also risking being injured or poisoned. They will get to that level quicker than an adult."

The HPA's sample comprised 610 Maori, 215 Pacific Islanders, 316 Asian people and 2864 of European or other ethnicity.

According to the HPA, 300g of alcohol - about a litre of spirits or four bottles of wine - can kill a 60kg person.

Williams said the figures are "incredibly scary" when it comes to the risks for young women particularly.

"Young women were shown to consume less but over the last decade we've seen more of an equalising effect, which is deeply concerning," she said.

"Socially, it's harder on them with risks of unplanned pregnancy or sexual assault. That's definitely an area of huge risk.

"The level of vulnerability is incredible, particularly if it is late at night or early in the morning when there is no public transport available. It's every parent's nightmare."

The Government is one year into its National Drug Policy 2015-2020 - a blueprint to minimise alcohol and other drug (AOD)-related issues.

The policy warns that early onset of alcohol consumption tends to increase the likelihood of regular and heavy use and has been associated with increased rates of violence and injury, unprotected sex, mental health problems, suicide, poorer educational outcomes and problem drinking later in life.

The Ministry of Health's annual health survey, released in December, found that over half of 15 to 17-year-olds had drunk alcohol in the past year, and in general, hazardous drinking rates in New Zealand had risen annually over the past four years.

"We still have a massive problem in New Zealand," Williams said.

- Herald on Sunday

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