July 2022 

In the July issue of The Shout NZ, NZABC’s executive director Bridget MacDonald discusses our drinking culture.

Sensational stories about our drinking culture don’t always reflect a true or accurate picture of Kiwi’s relationship with alcohol or put the focus on where it needs to be. Enjoying food and drink is how Kiwis and people world-over connect and socialise as part of their culture and a balanced lifestyle. The key to a balanced lifestyle is moderation.

Government data shows the vast majority of Kiwis are drinking moderately and sensibly at or below the recommended weekly limit with the Ministry of Health’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Advice based on standard drinks guidelines. Over 80% of drinkers are at or below the recommended 10 standard drinks a week for women and 15 for men. The official advice also calls for two alcohol-free days a week, which the research says 92% of drinkers are doing.

We have seen positive changes in our drinking culture and significant changes in attitudes and behaviours for some time. The amount of alcohol consumed in New Zealand is falling and has been for decades – we’re drinking 25% less than we did in the ’80s. Our drinking continues to trend downwards, hazardous drinking is declining, particularly amongst younger people, and our consumption levels are below the OECD average.

As a nation, we are making positive changes to what we drink and how we drink. We are seeing three responsible drinking trends emerge: Kiwis embracing zero-alcohol beverages, low-alcohol beverages becoming increasingly popular due to consumer demand for ‘better for me’ drinks, with 47% of New Zealanders consuming a low-alcohol beverage in the past year, and a shift to premiumisation – it’s about quality over quantity. Fifty-six per cent of Kiwis choose premium beverages like craft beer, fine wine, spirits or cocktails to sip and savour slowly.

Still, more work must be done to accelerate these positive changes to our drinking culture and reduce harmful drinking. Targeted education, public awareness campaigns and support initiatives are critical to educating young people on alcohol-related harm, encouraging adults to drink responsibly, and empowering people to make better decisions around alcohol.