One in five Kiwis are drinking at potentially dangerous levels

Experts say 8000 New Zealanders have died because of hazardous drinking. Photo: Getty Images
One in five New Zealanders drink alcohol at hazardous levels. Photo: Getty Images
New research has revealed one in five New Zealanders are drinking alcohol dangerously.

A paper published by the New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) looked into New Zealand's hazardous drinking and how often they visited a doctor.

Hazardous drinking, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), involves drinking that increases the risk of someone suffering health problems or mental health issues.

"Each year about one in five adults in New Zealand (748,000) drink alcohol at hazardous levels. Often there's a long delay between the onset of hazardous drinking and treatment, indicating an unmet need for prevention and earlier intervention."

The report said primary care had an important role in expanding access to services to meet the needs of people experiencing, and at risk of, alcohol-related harm earlier on.

"Primary care services are an important first point of contact with the health system for people who may be experiencing problems related to their own or whanau members' alcohol use."

The report found people who consumed more than the recommended weekly levels - 15 standard drinks for men and 10 for women - and who were Māori were less likely to have visited a GP in the last year compared to others in the same demographic.

The findings show the need to reduce inequalities and improve access to GP Services by Māori people and people living in underprivileged areas.

"To provide effective primary health responses to Maori, particularly younger people, who meet hazardous drinking criteria, there is a need to ensure services are designed and delivered in culturally responsive ways to enhance engagement and (are) provided in a range of settings."

Three possible and suitable strategies have been suggested to improve how primary care services respond to dangerous alcohol use.

• Alcohol screening. As it is not a routine practice in New Zealand health services the NZMA say it is a "missed opportunity" as it can provide opportunity for early support and advice.

• Short interventions and referrals. The article says that even the smallest reductions in alcohol can have a positive impact on a person's health and wellbeing.

• Culturally appropriate screening and brief interventions should be available for Māori.

The paper also puts forward other possible strategies, including education programmes and making non-stigmatising information available for those wanting to reduce their drinking.

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