Kiwi Baby Boomers are drinking more and more - study

The AM Show 26/07/2019

Think teenagers drink too much? There's a good chance your drinking is just as bad.

New research has found while Kiwis' alcohol use is still highest among under-25s, they're drinking less than they used to - but Baby Boomers are picking up the slack.

That's a worry, researchers say, because the older you are the less able your body is able to handle it.

"The same amount of alcohol for a 65-year-old is having much more of an impact on your system than for a 20-year-old," Massey University lecturer Andy Towers told The AM Show on Friday.

Dr Towers and four colleagues have written about the latest research in Friday's edition of the New Zealand Medical Journal. They say while per capita alcohol consumption in New Zealand has declined since the 1990s, but it's expected to rise over the next decade thanks to the older generation.

"Anywhere between 35 and 40 percent of over 4000 people in our study in New Zealand aged 50-plus were hazardous drinking - that's more than a third of these people over 50," said Dr Towers. 

Hazardous drinking in the last 10 years has doubled for people aged 65 to 74.

And it's not just bingeing - it's having a few drinks four or five nights a week. Dr Towers says people still believe the myth a small amount of alcohol is good for you.

"That's not putting you at immediate harm - it is putting you at longer-term harm of developing things like liver problems, heart disease, depression, anxiety, a number of health conditions."

Andy Towers. Photo credit: The AM Show

And once you're on medication for those conditions, the risks of alcohol get even worse, he says. 

"This isn't about being dependent on alcohol - this is about realising that even lower levels of drinking can be really dangerous for you if you have conditions like heart disease or you take medication."

The Government recently announced $58 million would be spent on treating drug and alcohol addiction, part of an almost $2 billion package to tackle the mental health crisis. Dr Towers said while it's a "fantastic start", it's not enough to make up for "decades" of underfunding.

He also fears there won't be services specific to helping older Kiwis, with much of the focus in the past having gone on youth.

"We're not telling anyone to stop drinking. What we're saying is we didn't know how much older adults were drinking, and now we do... Here is the information for you to drink safely if you want to do so. If you want to continue drinking and drink yourself to death, that's your choice."

Forget about the last one, get yourself another - MPs

Politicians The AM Show spoke to dismissed the research. Labour MP Willie Jackson, at 58 a young Baby Boomer, said his generation "probably" drink too much.

"But life's for the living isn't it?"

National's Judith Collins - 60 - said she wasn't convinced.

"I'm just sick and tired of people wowsing all over the place. Why don't they just go and be so judgemental about themselves and leave everyone else alone."

Dr Towers said he's secured funding to run a two-year pilot study involving GPs to figure out the best ways to tackle the problem on the front lines.

"What we didn't know previously was how much older adults are drinking, what sort of patterns and what harm they're at. Now we do know."

The AM Show / Newshub reporters Dan Satherley & Hayley Jacobsen