One in five admissions to New Zealand hospital emergency departments at peak party time are alcohol-related, but even that number could be on the low side, doctors say.
Researchers from the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine conducted a snapshot survey of 14 emergency departments around the country at 2am on Saturday, December 14.
An average 18 per cent of patients were there as a result of the harmful use of alcohol.
The survey provided the first national glimpse at the amount of alcohol-related issues being presented to emergency departments, principal investigator Dr Diana Egerton-Warburton said.
"Until now, we've had anecdotal evidence that the rates of alcohol presentations are high, but little data to go on."
The response rate from emergency departments was 80 per cent, which showed emergency physicians were keen to highlight the number of patients they were treating due to excessive alcohol consumption, she said.
Wellington Hospital emergency medicine specialist Dr Paul Quigley said 18 per cent was less than what he had experienced.
"One in five is par on the course for us, or actually, a little down," he said.
"We were quiet that night of the snapshot, but even then we managed a one in four ratio."
Midland regional emergency department clinical network liaison Dr Matthew Valentine said the one in five figure was consistent from what he had seen personally, and was understood to be common throughout the country.
But it was easy to underestimate the full extent of the problem, as often emergency departments recorded only an injury or harm, but not the role alcohol had played.
This could include people assaulted by an intoxicated person, or struck by a drink-driver.
The network was working to improve their data collection to better identify alcohol-related harm.
"One of the things we're working on is . . . expanding the definition to capture the full picture, because currently our records don't even reliably pick up when an individual has come to harm because of their own alcohol use, let alone someone else's alcohol use," Dr Valentine said.
"There's been a strong movement from a lot of emergency departments for more attention to the problem."
The new alcohol laws aimed at curbing harmful drinking were a good step, but ultimately just one aspect of the social change needed, he said.
"My personal view is that government regulation is often a pretty blunt tool, but what it can do is start to change the tone of what people consider acceptable use of alcohol and what isn't."
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