A rise in serious assaults is because of heavy drinking, with young people now 'brainwashed' into thinking life cannot be enjoyed without drinking, a Christchurch addiction expert says.
A new Otago University study shows blunt-force beatings, head and facial injuries and booze-fuelled ''brawls'' are major factors in a rise in the number of serious injuries.
Deaths from assaults now account for 3 per cent of all injury deaths and 10 per cent of hospital discharges.
Heavy drinking was the main contributor for this rise in assaults, Christchurch-based National Addictions Centre director Professor Doug Sellman says.
''New Zealand is awash with alcohol and these young people have grown up ... with an increasing heavy-drinking culture.''
He said alcohol advertising ''brainwashed'' young people into thinking life could not be enjoyed without drinking.
''Given that alcohol directly causes aggression, even in people who are not inherently aggressive, the high availability, low price and marketing push is a damaging and lethal combination,'' he told The Press.
''I continue to see, on a weekly basis, young teenagers at the [Canterbury District Health Board's] youth speciality service [for 13 to 18-year-olds] for whom a box of Cody's in a sitting is viewed as a normal night out.''
The Government's alcohol reform bill would not make a difference to the country's drinking culture, he said.
Christchurch Hospital emergency physician Scott Pearson said alcohol was still a ''major issue'' in the emergency department.
''The biggest group of people we would see are the ones who have injuries but have been exposed to alcohol - they make up a significant number,'' he said.
"The next group would be people with mental health issues that are exacerbated by alcohol; then there are people with chronic conditions that are also exacerbated by alcohol.''
Pearson said that on average day about 10 per cent of ED admissions were for injuries where drinking had been involved.
"But it goes much higher than that, especially in the weekends. I know that on September 2 that figure went up to 27 per cent,'' he aid.
The Injury Prevention Research Unit database showed there were 1889 Cantabrians hospitalised because of an assault between 2000 and 2011.
A total of 42 people died because of an assault in the region between 2000 and 2009, from the 32,161 assaults recorded by police in Canterbury.
In 2010 there were 3751 and for the 2011-12 financial year there were 3517 assaults recorded.
GOVERNMENT IS FAILING TO CURB DRINKING
Emeritus Professor John Langley, of Otago University's Injury Prevention Research Unit, says assaults are rising steadily and he blames the Government for its failure to curb alcohol consumption.
A study published today in the New Zealand Medical Journal, co-authored by Langley and Dr Pauline Gulliver, examined the 8006 serious non-fatal assaults between 2000 and 2009 and is the first comprehensive statistical analysis of this category of violence in more than two decades.
To be included as a serious assault for the study, the victim had to have a 6 per cent or worse chance of dying from their injuries.
''The trends we have observed are concerning, especially since there is no evidence of any recent abatement. This raises questions about our efforts to reduce such harm,'' Langley said.
''It also brings into focus the need for the Government to effectively tackle the alcohol issue if it wants to significantly reduce serious assaults.''
Seventy-six per cent of victims were male and, in the 15-24 age group, the number of serious assaults had risen markedly between 2004 and 2009, he said.
Bodily force was the most common method of injury, reported in nearly half the cases, followed by use of a blunt object. The third most prominent cause of serious injury was a sharp object or knife.
Head injury accounted for 72.6 per cent of all serious non-fatal injuries.
Maori accounted for 48 per cent of female serious assaults and 32 per cent of males.
Pacific Island people had a rate only slightly lower than for Maori males.
Excessive alcohol consumption was a common factor in the assault incidents, which frequently featured young to middle-age males beating up similarly aged males, Langley said.
''One of the key messages from the paper is 80 per cent of the problem is males. Most of those males are being assaulted by other males, and guess what the fuel is? It's alcohol.''
He said the Government needed to make alcohol harder to buy, and its lack of action was ''inexcusable''.
''The one thing they [the Government] could do right now is put greater control on alcohol availability.''
He said that while ''we've missed out on taking the purchasing age back up to 20'', higher taxation and stricter marketing rules would help reduce alcohol-related assaults.
''The one thing that struck me [from the study] is the increase in brawling with fists or solid objects,'' he said.
''What's going up is the brawling ... I think that's just associated with the alcohol.''
For the 2011-12 year, police reported 10,340 serious assaults resulting in injury. Their reporting criteria are different from that of Langley.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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