Alcohol and its effects
Alcohol is a depressant that affects concentration and coordination, slowing reaction times and affecting responses to situations, hence the danger when engaging in activities such as driving, working or sport.
Drinking has different effects on different people, depending on their weight, sex and metabolism. While the short-term effects, such as lack of coordination, mood changes and nausea are well known, the long-term effects on the body of prolonged and/or excessive drinking can include:
- Loss of feeling in hands and feet.
- Brain damage.
- Loss of memory.
- High blood pressure.
- Enlarged heart.
- Irregular pulse.
- Increased risk of infections including tuberculosis, cirrhosis of the liver, hepatitis, increased cancer risk, bleeding, ulcers and muscle weakness.
- Shrinking of testicles.
- Sperm damage and lower sperm count.
- Increased gynaecological problems.
- Foetus damage if pregnant.
- Increased risk of breast cancer.
Signs of alcohol abuse
Alcohol has been a part of socialising in New Zealand since the early settlers arrived in the mid-1800s. Nearly 200 years later, a culture of “binge drinking” has emerged, especially with many young people.
Having a good time doesn’t need to involve copious amounts of alcohol. Binge drinking is not fun – it can cause severe drunkenness, vomiting, shakiness, headaches and bad hangovers. Binge drinkers are at risk of alcohol poisoning, which can lead to coma or even death. Heavy or regular drinkers also risk long-term damage to their liver, brain, lungs, heart, and stomach, as well as an increased risk of cancer. They also risk becoming dependent on alcohol.
If you’re having trouble enjoying yourself without a drink, you could have a problem. The Health Promotion Agency (HPA) suggests that you should ask yourself:
- Do I find it difficult to stop drinking once I start?
- Does bad stuff often happen when I drink?
- Have I ever come around in A&E?
- Has drinking got me in trouble with the law?
- Do I suffer monster hangovers?
- Does drinking cause trouble with whānau/family?
- Does drinking get in the way of work?
- Do I seem to never have any money?
- Do I want to change my drinking habits?
If you can answer yes to any of these questions you probably have a problem. If you want to make some changes, take a look at www.alcohol.org.nz or call the Alcohol Drug Helpline (0800 787 797).
Ways to reduce your consumption
The HPA suggests that if you would like to cut down:
- Work out a personal limit per day, per week or per occasion – and stick to it.
- Do more activities that don’t involve drinking.
- Ring one of the alcohol and drug helplines we have listed here for free, confidential advice and resources to help you cut down.
Don’t drink if:
- You’re pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant.
- You’re on medication or if you have a condition made worse by drinking.
- You feel unwell, depressed, tired or cold as alcohol could make things worse.
- You’re about to operate machinery or a vehicle or do anything that is risky or requires skill.
When you’re out:
- There’s safety in numbers.
- Stick with your mates.
- If you’re going to be drinking, do so in moderation.
- The more you drink, the worse your decisions will be.
- If you’re drinking, have water or non-alcoholic drinks between each drink.
- Determine early on (when you are sober) how many drinks you will have so you maintain self-control.
- Consider the type of drink you are having, taking into account the alcohol content (beer has less alcohol than spirits.)
- Stay in a group (preferably with at least one sober friend.)
- Have a designated sober driver if you intend to drive home.
- Eat before you drink and while you’re drinking.
- Try drinks with lower alcohol content, but don’t make that an excuse for drinking more.
- Drink slowly.
- Don’t allow others to top up your drink.
- Count your drinks and stick to your limit.
- Tell your friends that you’re cutting down.
- Don’t drive.
- Stick with your drink – don’t leave it unattended and only drink what you’ve seen poured in front of you.
- Keep an eye on your gear. Bags, cellphones and other gear gets stolen because people haven’t taken care. If you can’t hold on to your gear, at least put it somewhere you can see it all the time.
- Don’t leave with someone you’ve just met or accept a lift with a stranger.
- If you use a public toilet, find a busy one with lots of people around. Check to see no-one’s loitering nearby. Ask a mate to wait for you. Leave if you’re not comfortable.
- Use teller machines only if you think it’s safe. Pick one in a well-lit area at night. Shield your PIN number, make only small withdrawals if possible, and put your money away quickly.
If you think you’re being followed, cross the street, vary your pace and direction, and go to somewhere busy, such as a service station or fast food outlet. If you’re worried, call 111. If you are confronted, be confident and assertive. Say loudly “Leave me alone” or words to that effect. If you have to physically defend yourself, go for the eyes, nose and genital area. Use whatever’s handy – handbag, briefcase or umbrella. Dial 111 as soon as possible.
Alcohol affects how we drive. The risk rapidly increases as the blood-alcohol level rises. If we drink and drive with a blood-alcohol level over 80mg per 100ml we are at least three times more likely to be in a crash than a sober driver. People with a high blood alcohol level are more likely to be injured or killed in a crash than those who are sober.
Alcohol-affected drivers are involved in about 30% of fatal vehicle crashes. They are also involved in one-in-eight injury crashes. The 2005 road toll was 405: study suggests that alcohol was a contributing factor in 115 of those deaths – 28%. Some other key facts for 2005 based on crashes reported by Police:
- Drinking and driving contributed to 100 fatal crashes, 390 serious injury crashes and 940 minor injury crashes.
- Drinking and driving contributed to 518 serious injuries and 1474 minor injuries.
- For every 100 drunk drivers killed, 55 of their own passengers and 36 other drivers, passengers, cyclists or pedestrians died with them.
- The social cost of drink driving-related crashes was about $660 million (about 25% of the social cost associated with all injury crashes).
- More than 85% of drivers with excess blood alcohol in fatal crashes were male.
Changing lethal behaviour
From 2004 the approach to road safety advertising has aimed at asking New Zealanders to demand that drivers improve their driving behaviour. This approach focuses on facts, figures and physics, the impact of risky driving on the victim, families and communities, emotion and rationality, credibility and personality. It wants people to start asking whether they want to share the road with drivers who endanger the rest of us.
The advertising and enforcement campaign approach highlights the link between drink driving and road crashes. By presenting drink driving as socially unacceptable and by stimulating social pressure and intolerance to support this, it aims at changing attitudes and behaviour and a consequent reduction in road trauma caused by drink driving. As well, the Police enforce this area of traffic law. Compulsory breath-testing is an effective deterrent. Tactics to combat drink driving are:
- Conspicuous, compulsory breath-testing.
- Passive alcohol-testing devices.
- Vigorous enforcement of alcohol laws.
The legal drink-drive limit for drivers under 20 years of age is a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of zero. The legal drink-drive limits for drivers 20 years and over are a breath alcohol limit of 250 micrograms (mcg) of alcohol per litre of breath and a blood alcohol limit of 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood.
The cost to the country
Alcohol abuse has a significant effect on the health and well-being of many New Zealanders. The cost to New Zealand in so many ways is horrendous. We are spending millions of dollars to combat alcohol abuse, to provide health care and support services, and to provide resources for the Police, and the justice and prison systems. But what cannot be quantified is the cost of broken lives – lives of family members who have tolerated drunkenness and "binge" drinking to the point where it has become "normal" in their family life.
A research report commissioned for the Alcohol Advisory Council (ALAC), The Burden of Death, Disease and Disability due to Alcohol in New Zealand, found that 3.9% of all deaths in New Zealand in 2000 could be attributed to alcohol consumption. Other figures showed that:
- In 2005, New Zealanders aged over 15 years consumed an average of 9.38 litres of alcohol, up 3.2% from 2004.
- Beer accounted for 68.8% of alcohol available for consumption in 2005. Spirits and spirit-based drinks (pre-mixed, or alcopops) accounted for 11.7% of total alcohol in 2005.
- One in three teenagers aged 12 to 17 reported in 2003 that they made no attempt to limit their drinking.
- 48% of New Zealanders surveyed in 2003 thought it was OK to get drunk.
- A quarter of all adults engage in risky drinking on a relatively frequent basis, according to ALAC.
Alcohol is a drug that has a significant effect on the level of violence in New Zealand. It’s a major factor in family violence, street violence and sexual offending, and contributes to road crashes and property damage. Its effects are wide-reaching and devastating for too many families. More deaths and injuries involve alcohol than any other drug. Of all reported crime, the police say alcohol is a factor in:
- A third of all violence
- A third of all family violence
- Half of all serious violence
- Half of all drugs and anti-social offences
- At least 1 in 5 cases of sexual offending
- 1 in 4 traffic offences
- 1 in 4 property offences.
- 1 in 5 traffic crashes.
Alcohol-related issues use up at least 18% of the total police budget.