Alco-pop guzzling young women are the ugly new face of New Zealand’s drinking problem, a first-of-its-kind study shows.
Massey University researchers Martin Wall and Sally Cresswell interviewed 2000 people for their study, which identified distinct behaviour ‘clusters’ that drinkers fell into.
Women under 24 who purchased RTDs from off-licences were found to drink, on average, nearly 24 litres per year.
That was more than twice the amount consumed by the next cluster of female problem drinkers, and more than the heaviest male drinker cluster too.
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Wall and Cresswell’s study also found that problem drinking amongst younger woman wasn’t a problem a generation ago when they checked earlier research studies going back to the mid-eighties.
“We didn’t find too many studies that had done anything similar, and they didn’t usually focus on characteristics,” Wall said.
“The methodology of grouping is quite common, but the thing we did – by using drink-of-choice and the place where they drunk, off-premise or on-premise – that, as far as I know, hasn’t been done before.”
Alcohol Healthwatch executive director Dr Nicki Jackson said the research “reinforces the role of off-licences in alcohol-related harm” in New Zealand.
“Drinkers are increasingly choosing to purchase their alcohol from these outlets, resulting in them now selling around 75 per cent of all alcohol in New Zealand.”
Young women were consuming in excess of four times the amounts recommended in New Zealand’s low-risk drinking guidelines, Jackson said.
That placed them and others at “extreme risk of alcohol-related harm”.
Auckland addiction treatment clinician and recovering alcoholic Simone Barclay said the rise in female problem drinking was partly a sign of a changing society.
“One flipside of woman’s changing roles is ‘girls can do anything’, girls are less lady-like – and so they should be. [Heavy drinking] is one way it is manifesting, they’re drinking just like the lads,” she said.
“Our society has got a very high tolerance for drunken ‘high jinks’. We need to lower that threshold.”
Wall said law changes which allowed supermarkets to sell alcohol could have been partly to blame for the increase in problem drinking among women.
In 1990 New Zealand supermarkets were allowed to sell wine, then in 1999, beer.
Beforehand, when people visited off-licences, “everybody [knew] the only reason you’re going in there is to buy alcohol”, Wall said.
“With supermarkets, it’s just part of the weekly shop. We do speculate that that change may have been a factor for increasing drinking among women.”
Jackson also noted that research showed massive increases in hazardous drinking among middle-aged men and women.
“It is perhaps not surprising this is the same population group that began their drinking journey when the availability of beer and wine increased rapidly following their sale in supermarkets.”
Wall and Cresswell published their study, Drinker Types, Harm, and Policy-Related Variables: Result from the 2011 international Alcohol Control Study in New Zealand, in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical And Experimental Research.
New Zealand’s two largest supermarket group owners, Foodstuffs and Progressive Enterprises, have yet to respond to requests for comment.