Teen girls' binges alarm

MORE BINGING: Timaru girls are binge drinking more - in line with national statistics.
MORE BINGING: Timaru girls are binge drinking more - in line with national statistics.

South Canterbury teenage girls are increasingly binge-drinking, which was in line with the findings of a national survey.

The percentage of New Zealand females aged 16 and 17 binge-drinking on a typical night out has tripled from 9 to 28 per cent between 1995 and 2011. Those findings were revealed at an alcohol harm conference in Auckland yesterday.

Sergeant Greg Sutherland said, based on his 22 years in the police, the increase was noticeable in South Canterbury.

"It has increased. That would be very accurate, and I think it's probably a direct result of the change in purchasing age."

However, the problem was not exclusive to young females.

For males aged 16 and 17, the percentage increased from 19 to 25 per cent. Binge-drinking has dropped among 18 and 19-year-old males from 30 to 29 per cent.

However, for the same age group of females, the proportion of binge-drinkers increased from 4 to 16 per cent.

Mr Sutherland said the age of binge-drinkers appeared to be getting lower, possibly because teenagers had easier access to alcohol through their older friends as a result of the drop in the purchasing age.

The drinking age dropped from 20 to 18 in 1999.

In October, Timaru police were "disturbed" to find five girls as young as 15 carrying bottles of vodka at 10pm on a Saturday.

An officer who dealt with the incident said what was more troubling was when officers called the girls' parents, only one of them wanted their child taken home.

The girls were given liquor infringement notices, costing them each a $200 fine.

Alcohol Healthwatch director Rebecca Williams, said teenage girls who were binge-drinking risked establishing bad drinking habits for life.

"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."

The report showed the country's drinking culture had led to an unacceptable number of early deaths and disabilities.

A thousand premature deaths were attributed to alcohol each year nationally, although for women the effects were worse.

Women processed alcohol slower, so if they were drinking the same as men they were more likely to develop chronic alcohol diseases faster, including cancer.

Heavy drinkers were also more at risk of sexual and physical abuse, road crashes, unwanted pregnancies and having babies with foetal alcohol syndrome.

Little was done to help female problem drinkers. "We let people get into trouble and think we can patch them up, but we can't."

The Timaru Herald