Alcohol threat to New Zealand youth

Last updated 05:00 14/11/2012

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Alcohol is being blamed for a quarter of deaths for those aged under 25.

As university students celebrated the end of exams with boozy parties, the harsh truths of alcohol's effects on youth were revealed at an alcohol harm conference in Auckland.

Fatal road crashes, suicide, physical and sexual assaults and alcohol poisoning were counted among the bleak cost of booze for New Zealand's Generation Y.

A draft report into alcohol-harm released at the conference tallied up the staggering human cost of alcohol: 1000 premature deaths each year, and thousands of injuries.

Massey University public health professor Sally Casswell said youth were particularly vulnerable, with alcohol a factor in a quarter of deaths in the under-25 age group.

Alcohol poisoning and road crashes made up a big proportion of these deaths.

Liquor was also leaving a hangover for Generation Y in years to come.

Casswell said the more people drank in their youth, the more likely they were to drink heavily later in life and have later health complications.

Adding to the problem, binge drinking rates among teenagers were rising at a faster rate than adult populations, especially among schoolgirls.

Health experts, including Casswell, called on the Government to tighten its grip around the alcohol industry in a similar way to cigarettes.

"We must start to learn from tobacco," Casswell said.

With the bigger boozing culture, females are particularly at risk of doing themselves more harm and risking their health.

Senior secondary school girls are now bigger binge drinkers than their male counterparts, according to the national alcohol survey.

The percentage of girls aged 16 and 17 binge-drinking on a typical night out tripled from nine to 28 per cent between 1995 and 2011.

For males of the same age, the percentage increased from 19 to 25 per cent.

The level of binge-drinking has dropped among 18 and 19-year-old men, from 30 to 29 per cent.

For the same age group of women, the proportion of binge-drinkers increased from 4 to 16 per cent.

Alcohol Healthwatch director Rebecca Williams said the astonishingly high level of alcohol-related violence and injury was a cause for serious concern.

"We have high prevalence of heavy drinking across society in New Zealand, which in turn results in unacceptable levels of premature death and disability."

She said prevention tactics needed to capture problem drinkers early.

"It's just absolutely frightening that people think this is normal behaviour and it's a lot more difficult to undo that damage once it's set in."

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- Fairfax Media

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