Incidence and impact of alcohol-related harm

Progress continues to be made in relation to measuring alcohol-related harm, both in Canterbury and nationally. Understanding the impact of alcohol helps inform evidence-based harm-reduction activities.

A set of Alcohol Harm Reduction Indicators was developed by Public Health Specialists at Community and Public Health on behalf of the South Island Alliance in 2015[1].

Christchurch Hospital Emergency Department has taken steps to record alcohol-related presentations. This has led to greater understanding around the impact of alcohol consumption on local health services. However it is currently estimated that only 50 to 60 percent of alcohol related presentations are being identified.

Further data collection and the use of screening tools are expected to be part of the Health system Alcohol-related Harm Reduction Strategy. Data collection will align with the new Ministry of Health requirement taking effect in July 2017 for the number of “alcohol-affected” patients to be reported.[2] Screening tools are known to be an effective intervention to identify and consequently reduce alcohol-related harm.[3]

Progress on addressing alcohol-related harm in NZ

The need to improve measures to reduce alcohol consumption and hazardous drinking has become particularly relevant in New Zealand over recent years. This is largely due to the Law Commission's report "Alcohol in Our Lives: Curbing the Harm" released in April 2010 which acknowledged hazardous drinking as a key public health issue in New Zealand. This report also made a number of recommendations for Alcohol Law Reform. Some changes were made in 2012, but the legislation did not include a number of key policy suggestions including:

  • Raising the price of alcohol;
  • Raising the purchase age;
  • Reducing alcohol accessibility; and
  • Reducing marketing and advertising.

Read the 2010 Law Commission report "Alcohol in Our Lives: Curbing the Harm".

A Ministerial Forum on Alcohol Advertising and Sponsorship was convened in 2014. This forum reported back to the Government recommending further restrictions

on the alcohol sponsorship of sport and advertising to reduce exposure of alcohol brands to children.[4] Members of the medical association and the Forum have communicated their concern to the Government that no policy changes have resulted so far.[5].

The Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012 did make provisions for:

  • lowering the legal Blood Alcohol Concentration for driving;
  • established the role of LAPs; and
  • recently the limited display and promotion of alcohol in supermarkets.

Find out about local Canterbury developments to address alcohol-related harm.

Addressing the health impacts of alcohol in NZ

Alcohol is one of the leading causes of lost disability-adjusted-life-years (DALYs) in both developed and developing countries according to the World Health Organisation[6]. Local 2011 research estimated the cost of alcohol-related harm to Canterbury’s wider health system as $62.8 million.

Read the 2011 BERL report on the costs of harmful alcohol use in Canterbury DHB [PDF].

The New Zealand Medical Association’s 2015 policy briefing “Reducing Alcohol Related Harm” echoes the Law Commission’s recommendations. It discusses the national incidence and causal links between alcohol and disease (such as cancer and cardiovascular disease); as well as alcohol-related harm to others such as crime, domestic violence and financial hardship. These indirect or additional impacts of alcohol consumption have become better understood over recent decades.

Read the NZ Medical Association Policy briefing “Reducing Alcohol Related Harm” [PDF].

International measures to reduce alcohol related harm

The concern that New Zealand may fall behind in international public health measures to reduce alcohol-related harm remains a reality given the high burden of harm to health (and particularly for Māori) in New Zealand.

One international response to alcohol-related harm is Scotland’s Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) Act 2012.[7] Minimum unit pricing for alcohol is an evidence-based intervention which tends to impact heavy and young drinkers effectively.

Advocating for effective evidence-based measures at a local and national level will continue to be a priority for Healthy Christchurch signatories.

[1] Mulrine, H., Dong, H. and Begg, A. 2015. Alcohol Harm Reduction Indicators: Canterbury District Health Board. South Island Alliance: Christchurch.

[2] Ministry of Health. 2016. Guidelines: National Non-admitted Patient Collection ‘Alcohol Involved’ Field. Retrieved from:

[3] Casswell, S. & Maxwell, A. 2005. What Works to Reduce Alcohol-Related Harm and why aren't The Policies More Popular? SHORE: Albany.

[4] Ministerial Forum on Alcohol Advertising and Sponsorship. 2014. Recommendations on Alcohol Advertising and Sponsorship. Retrieved from:

[5] NZMA. 2017. Time for the New Zealand government to ban alcohol advertising and sponsorship in sport. NZMA: New Zealand.

[6] WHO. 2002. The World Health Report: Reducing Risks, Promoting Healthy Life. Retrieved from:

[7] Scottish Government. 2012. Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012. The Stationary Office: Norwich.