New Zealand's binge-drinking culture is now so deeply ingrained that one in three young adults has an alcohol problem.
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Experts say a generation that has grown up with alco-pops, a lower drinking age and heavy marketing of hard liquor is now suffering the effects and urge health professionals to take action.
The comments follow the release of a disturbing study from Otago University's Christchurch School of Medicine.
A survey of more than 1000 25-year-olds found one in three admitted to an alcohol problem and one in 20 was alcohol-dependent or had an addiction where liquor ruled their lives and they needed it to function.
Those with the most disturbing alcohol problems were the least likely to acknowledge they had a problem.
Addiction experts say the results are disturbing but not surprising, given the country's binge-drinking culture, lowered drinking age and the prevalence of "hard liquor".
Alcohol Advisory Council chief executive Gerard Vaughan said health professionals, including GPs and accident and emergency staff, should screen young adults for alcohol problems.
"Because we have a deeply ingrained binge-drinking culture where risky drinking is accepted, tolerated and even glamorised, many people do not recognise they need help," he said.
International research showed intervention, even as simple as a health professional asking pertinent questions, was enough to motivate an individual to change, Vaughan said.
Canterbury District Health Board alcohol and drug services clinical head Dr David Stoner said the youth drinking culture had changed over the past decade as the drinking age was lowered.
There had been greater access to "hard liquor" such as alco-pops and spirits.
Alcohol abusers tended to have their "heads in the sand" as the worse their problem became, the harder it was to admit, he said.
"Nobody leaves school to become a drug addict or an alcoholic, so it's not surprising people aren't keen to say they have a problem," Stoner said.
The study's author, Dr Elisabeth Wells, said that of the 351 participants who admitted to an alcohol problem, only 26 sought treatment.
The study, which has just been published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, found those who sought help did so at the urging of family or friends.
Wells said the main reason people did not seek help was that they thought they did not need help. They believed their alcohol problem would get better or they did not think to get help.
Addiction expert Fraser Todd, of the Christchurch School of Medicine, said it was not surprising so many people in their 20s admitted to a problem with alcohol.
The 20s was a period of greater social and financial freedom than the teenage years, and 20-somethings still had a taste for fun and socialising that often included alcohol, he said.
The problems among young drinkers reflected a wider issue of binge drinking in New Zealand, Todd said.
Christchurch Hospital emergency medicine specialist Professor Mike Ardagh has previously said that up to half of emergency department attendances were alcohol-related.
Many were treated for alcohol poisoning or alcohol-related injuries after fights and falls. Some patients suffered sexual abuse or assaults while drunk.
- The Press
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