It's how we're drinking . . . and smoking and snorting
Poll: An invisible swath of middle-class New Zealanders are drinking heavily and indulging in drugs, a new survey has found.
Fairfax Media's involvement in the Global Drugs Survey on worldwide drug use has for the first time revealed how entrenched alcohol and drugs - both legal and illegal - are in our everyday lives.
Addiction medicine specialists say the results show users fall across a broad spectrum of the population.
The survey reveals interesting and shocking glimpses into the drug habits of the 5731 New Zealand respondents, who had a mean age of 34.7, about half of whom had an undergraduate degree, and 84 per cent of whom were employed.
Alcohol was most commonly used and also the substance we were most concerned about: 8 per cent admitting to blacking out at least monthly while drinking.
About 1 per cent of respondents said they had received emergency medical help after drinking in the past year, usually having consumed 10 to 20 drinks.
Survey founder Adam Winstock - a British addiction specialist - said Kiwis appeared to use cannabis responsibly, but their attitudes towards alcohol were worrying.
A large proportion of survey respondents recorded heavy drinking behaviour, but almost half of them believed their drinking was average or less than average compared with others, he said.
Three-quarters of respondents had used illegal drugs during their lifetime, and almost half had used them in the past year, but legal highs were considered to be detrimental to users' health.
Prescription painkillers were also popular, raising concerns about ease of access to opiates such as oxycodone.
Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said the results could not be taken as a picture of the overall population, but were a great snapshot of drug use.
"We've known for a long time that alcohol does cause a lot of problems. People want help for themselves and their loved ones, but where do they go for help?"
Stereotypes about drug users just being gang members or the unemployed were simply untrue. "New Zealand's drug problem is not just found in state houses and the sooner we wake up to that problem the better."
Some of the survey results, such as those regarding prescription medicine use, were worrying and it was important more work was done into how drugs were being used by wider society, he said.
"If we all reflect on ourselves, I'm a drug user - I use alcohol, I use it for a reason and I don't have a problem with that - but you're going to get someone else who's non-alcohol but smokes pot . . . We have to have a better understanding of the role drugs have in people's lives. Most people don't use drugs because they had a traumatic childhood or their lives are s..., it's because they want to relax."
Dozens of drugs, including anabolic steroids, datura, glue, heroin, mescaline and PCP, had been tried by less than 3 per cent of respondents.
Alcohol causes the most admissions to emergency departments.
10 per cent of drinkers could not stop once they started, at least monthly, and 8 per cent had a blackout while drinking at least monthly.
New Zealand had the second-lowest rate of mixing tobacco with cannabis.
Almost everyone had heard of e-cigarettes but most were sceptical.
A quarter of people who use prescription medication want to use less and more than 75 per cent said prescription scripts were not difficult to get hold of.