Pass on the sauce: survey shows Kiwis are drinking less

by | Dec 9, 2021 | News

Data from the latest New Zealand Health Survey 2020/21 shows the number of New Zealanders who consumed alcohol in the past year has declined by 3.1% and is at its lowest in 10 years, says the NZ Alcohol Beverages Council (NZABC). In 2020/21, 78.5% of Kiwis chose to drink alcohol compared to 81.6% in the previous year.[i]  The number of people who had a drink in the past year is declining, notably, adults aged 25-34 years (-4.8%), 45-54 years (-4.3%) and 65-74 years (-4.7%), and in the Māori population (-2.7%).

“Typically, it is the younger generation drinking less, but now we are seeing a positive shift in older people’s drinking behaviours, a group that hasn’t previously shown significant changes until now. Kiwis are making better decisions about alcohol based on their personal circumstances and lifestyle and the increase in no- and low-alcohol options available. As a result, our consumption is decreasing and below the OECD average, and hazardous drinking is declining,” says Bridget MacDonald, NZABC’s Executive Director. 

The survey also shows that hazardous drinking across the total population has declined slightly (-1.4%). It has decreased the most in the older generations: adults aged 35-44 years (-2.1%), 45-54 years (-4.2%), 65-74 years (-1.6%), and 75+ years (-1.7%). Hazardous drinking in the Māori population has also declined (-3.2%).

“It’s evident you can teach ‘old dogs’ new tricks, with older Kiwis taking the lead on reducing hazardous drinking. The majority of New Zealanders drink moderately and sensibly, and we’re drinking about 25% less than the 70s and 80s. But the downward trend in harmful drinking shows it is possible to make further changes to our drinking culture. Our own research shows that the older age group are embracing no- and low-alcohol drinks, and those who choose to drink full-strength beverages are drinking them in a more moderate and mindful way,” says Bridget.[iv] 

“Young adults aged 18-24 years are part of the new generation of more sensible drinkers who are more likely to choose to drink smarter. Although the trend is that hazardous drinking is falling in this age group, it crept up 2.3% in the past year. It’s a timely reminder to think about ‘how’ and ‘what’ we are drinking. A good rule of thumb is ‘Go no, low or slow’ – it’s always okay to choose no alcohol, choose a drink that is low-alcohol, or simply sip and savour your drink slowly,” says Bridget.

“Alcohol can be enjoyed as part of a balanced lifestyle, but in these challenging pandemic times, we need to continue to make good choices to keep ourselves safe and social. Information and handy tips to help us make better drinking decisions can be found at and,” says Bridget.

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Peter Wright

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