New research has shown that a third of New Zealanders have been drinking to hazardous levels their entire lives.

The research, conducted by Massey University's School of Health Sciences and the University of Auckland's Centre for Addiction Research, found that binge drinking isn't something we grow out of.

Lead by Massey University's Andy Towers, this is the first "lifetime" drinking study, measuring habits spanning decades.

It showed that 33 per cent of New Zealanders were "hazardous drinkers" by their 20s and continued to drink hazardously for most of their adult lives.


For nearly one-third of Kiwis, these drinking patterns continue into their 60s and 70s, increasing the risk of immediate harm, like blackouts and hospitalisation, and long-term harm such as worsening health and death.

Another key finding suggested 13 per cent of older men had been binge drinking -consuming five to six drinks at least once a week - for most of their adult lives.

Dr Towers said the findings suggest drinking patterns are surprisingly stable across a person's lifespan, which is not what the researchers expected.

"The notion that younger Kiwi drinkers will eventually 'mature' out of risky drinking when they get older is wrong."

The study drew on data from Massey University's Health, Work and Retirement Longitudinal Study.

This long-running study has extensive historical data on the lives of more than 800 participants aged 50-plus, including their childhood home life, adult work history, relationships, key life events, health and drinking patterns across their lifespan.

"We've never had a study tell us so much about our lifelong drinking patterns before," Towers said.

"We were able to identify at what age Kiwis started drinking, what started them drinking earlier or later, how their drinking patterns changed across their life and why they changed."


The team also identified the factors linked to early initiation of alcohol use.

"We found that boys were much more likely to have started drinking earlier than girls, usually between 14 and 18 years of age," Professor Janie Sheridan from the University of Auckland said.

"Also, those who started drinking earlier in life were much more likely to be from wealthier homes and to have parents who smoked."

The team found that heavy drinkers in older adulthood were much more likely to be men, had started drinking earlier in life, had grown up in poorer households, and had a parent who was a heavy drinker.

Dr David Newcombe from the University of Auckland said the report offers clear insights into how we can reduce alcohol-related harms in New Zealand.

"These findings have implications for Kiwis of all ages," he said.


"We need to be brave enough to start talking to our family and friends about their drinking, what it might be doing to their health and the health of their children, and whether we can do something about it."

Dr Towers said the research questions New Zealand's current approach to alcohol.

"If our results indicate that drinking patterns don't change much across our lives, then we need to ensure young Kiwis don't start drinking like this in the first place.

"This means using approaches that we know help to reduce rates of drinking and harms, such as increasing the price of cheap alcohol, reducing alcohol accessibility and advertising, and banning alcohol sponsorship of sports that children play.

"Helping young Kiwis to reduce their drinking now will help to reduce their drinking for the rest of their lives."