Make binge-drinking uncool, pleads doctor

Binge drinking could follow smoking in losing its fashionable status, says a Wellington emergency department consultant hoping a sobriety campaign will help reduce alcohol-related harm.

Hello Sunday Morning encourages those wanting to take a break from alcohol to blog on the booze-free experience. The project has already attracted hundreds of followers around New Zealand and is today being given a push with its national launch in Auckland.

Wellington Hospital emergency department consultant Mark Hussey said it "certainly sounds like a good idea" and thought the initiative may lead to binge drinking becoming "uncool" in the same way campaigns against smoking had worked, especially with young people.

"We see a tremendous amount of binge drinking, especially young females, some as young as 14, sometimes younger."

On Friday night a 30-year-old man was admitted for observation after suffering severe head injuries in a fight, another patient had passed out vomiting in the CBD, while a third turned up with eye trauma after being punched.

Admissions for head injuries from fights and assaults were the "big one", with broken and sprained ankles from falls also featuring heavily.

From midnight Friday to yesterday morning the emergency department had treated about a dozen people who had been injured while drinking.

On Saturday morning four people remained in hospital because they were still too intoxicated to be sent home, Mr Hussey said.

Wellington comedian Dai Henwood stopped drinking two months ago to take part in Hello Sunday Morning.

Since then, his stand-up routines were sharper, his health had improved and he was enjoying comedy more as a result, he said.

"Being a stand-up comic, I basically work in a bar every night. You're always working when people are partying and you can get caught up in that."

The project's approach of encouraging people to re-evaluate their relationship with drinking instead of the "hard out ethos of don't drink" used in other campaigns appealed to him.

Seeing some "epic boozing" on a recent tour through the provinces had reinforced how ingrained binge drinking culture was in this country, he said.

New Zealand Drug Foundation's executive director Ross Bell said drinking cost New Zealanders billions of dollars in health, economic and social costs.

However, he believed young people themselves were now leading a change to turn things around.

A recent report showed nearly a third of university drinkers had passed out while drinking and then carried on binging after vomiting.

The paper, published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, showed 27 per cent of men and 9 per cent of women would not stop drinking even when they vomited.

Alcohol Advisory Council acting chief executive officer Andrew Hearn said the council was supportive of Hello Sunday Morning, which he said stimulated debate "about the way we drink, thus putting the spotlight on our binge drinking culture".

The programme is used in Britain, the USA, Canada, Hong Kong and Australia, with 300 New Zealanders already taking part.

Changing Attitudes

A Hello Sunday Morning survey of New Zealand participants revealed:

  • 90 per cent of participants said their attitude toward alcohol had changed.
  • 65 per cent reported their relationships had improved.
  • 80 per cent said they found it easier to say no to alcohol.
  • 58 per cent said they lost weight.

Contact Matt Stewart
Weather, science and environment reporter
Twitter: @smatape