Alcohol blamed for rise in youth assaults

GEORGINA STYLIANOU
Last updated 11:53 13/10/2012

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Drunken youngsters who think nothing of drinking a box of bourbon and Coke in one night have sparked a rise in serious assaults, a Christchurch addiction expert says.

A new Otago University study shows a sharp rise in alcohol violence from 2009, particularly among young Maori men.

Blunt-force beatings, head and facial injuries and booze- fuelled fights were the major factors in the increase.

Emeritus Professor John Langley said the study, published in the New Zealand Medical Journal yesterday, was the first comprehensive analysis of this category of violence in more than two decades.

'It brings into focus the need for the Government to effectively tackle the alcohol issue if it wants to significantly reduce serious assaults,' he said.

Langley said reduced alcohol advertising and higher taxes on alcohol would have a big effect on the number of assaults.

Otago University, Christchurch, National Addictions Centre director Doug Sellman said heavy drinking was behind the rise in assaults.

He said alcohol advertising "brainwashed" young people into thinking life could not be enjoyed without drinking.

"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 [bourbon and cola] in a sitting is viewed as a normal night out," he told The Press.

"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."

Langley and co-author Dr Pauline Gulliver found that in New Zealand between 2000 and 2009 there were 8006 serious non-fatal assaults - 6335 male victims and 1671 females.

Assaults account for 3 per cent of all injury deaths and 10 per cent of hospital discharges. Maori accounted for 48 per cent of female serious non- fatal assaults, and one-third of males in the same category.

Christchurch Hospital emergency physician Scott Pearson said alcohol remained a "major issue" in the emergency department.

Injuries where drinking had been a contributing factor and people who had mental health or chronic health conditions that were worsened by alcohol were the biggest groups, he said.

On an 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 said.

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- The Press

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