Study warns of danger to teens caused by others' drinking

The AM Show 04/12/2019

A new study has revealed the dangers of teenage drinking, focusing on the risk to other people including assault and sexual harassment. 

The Australian research, published in the latest issue of Public Health Research and Practice, involved nearly 3500 teens who drink to a level considered risky for their age and gender.

Dr Nicki Jackson, director of Alcohol Healthwatch, who was not involved in the research, says although alcohol is proven to have harmful effects for those who drink it, this study focused on the harm that those who drink it causes for others.

"More New Zealanders are harmed by the drinking of others than by their own drinking," Dr Jackson told The AM Show on Wednesday.

She says the study's results come as no surprise.

Of all drugs in society, in terms of harm alcohol by far is the most harmful.

According to Dr Jackson, The study found that 71 percent of females aged between 14 and 19 reported unwanted sexual attraction from someone who was drinking. Forty-one percent of females reported being harassed or bothered at a party and 33 percent said they experienced fear as a result of others' drinking.

Thirty-four percent of males reported being harassed, 47 percent being given unwanted sexual attention and 20 percent being in fear.

Both sexes also reported either being verbally abused by someone who was drunk or being pushed or shoved.

Dr Jackson says teens experiencing alcohol-related issues can be traced back 20 years when the drinking age was lowered to 18.

"We thought if we double the places that sell alcohol and put it next to our bread and milk and we normalised it then it wouldn't be this risky product," she says. "That was an absolute myth and it was an absolute failure."

One out of eight teens go out binge drinking at least once, says Dr Jackson.

The research re-enforces her view, she says, that there needs to be more policy aimed at reducing alcohol-related harm. 

If we were going to put policy where the harm is the greatest we would be putting it toward alcohol.

Earlier this month, figures from the Ministry of Health showed the number of Kiwis drinking is on the rise. 

Data from the ministry's annual survey found the number of 18- to 24-year-olds who consume six or more drinks on occasion had risen to 21.1 percent, up from 16.5 percent.

The number of adults who drink at all also rose from 78.7 percent to 80.3 percent, with a fifth classified as hazardous drinkers.

In August, Justice Minister Andrew Little expressed concerns that the alcohol industry was using its "deep pockets" to "overpower" local communities and hinted that a review of alcohol laws may be on the cards within one to two years.

The AM Show / Newshub reporter James Fyfe