Schoolgirls' binge drinking shame

MARIKA HILL
Last updated 13:27 13/11/2012

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Senior secondary school girls are now bigger binge drinkers than their male counterparts, according to a health report into the country's drinking habits.

With the bigger boozing culture, females are also doing themselves more harm and risking their health.

The hard-hitting report into the female drinking culture was released at an alcohol harm conference in Auckland today.

The percentage of females 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. 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 four to 16 per cent.

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 has lead to an unacceptable number of early deaths and disability.

One thousand premature deaths are attributed to alcohol each year; although for women the effects are worse.

Women process alcohol slower, so if they're drinking the same as men they are 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 fetal alcohol syndrome.

But little was being done to help female problem drinkers, Williams said.

"We let people get into trouble and think we can patch them up, but we can't."

She called on greater preventative measures, including screening women for drinking problems at GP clinics and hospitals.

At a wider scale, Alcohol Healthwatch has been lobbying for alcohol marketing restrictions, limiting liquor outlets and hiking prices.

One in three New Zealand drinkers reported being harmed by their own drinking in the previous year.

The dangerous effects of excessive drinking will be put under the spotlight at the two-day alcohol harm conference.

Health and social policy experts will aim to find ways to better protect women and children adversely affected by the boozy culture.

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