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Changes in drinking behaviour detected in Auckland

Changes in drinking behaviour detected in Auckland general practice patients between 1995 and 2003

One in every four 14-15 year old Auckland girls and one in five 14-15 year old Auckland boys from 1711 young people aged 14-24 years who presented to their GPs in 2003 was drinking alcohol at a risky or problematic level according to a new study.

The study commissioned by the Alcohol Advisory Council also found binge, risky and problematic drinking had increased in 16-24 year females in the period from 1995 to 2003, and an increase in female problematic drinking for all age groups to age 60 years.

Male drinking over all age groups had not consistently increased or declined between 1995 and 2003, although males drink at higher levels than females.

Researchers Dr Felicity Goodyear-Smith, Professor Ross McCormick, Dr Grant Paton-Simpson, and Ms Susanne Brighouse from the Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care, University of Auckland, compared the alcohol use of patients at 67 general practices in Auckland in 1995 and in 2003.

The study used an internationally accepted tool (The Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, known as AUDIT) to measure drinking - the higher the score, the riskier the drinking.

Overall, young people had higher average AUDIT scores than older people in both 1995 and 2003. The age groups with the highest scores were the 20-24 year old males and the 16-19 year old females in both 1995 and in 2003.

From 1995 to 2003, binge, risky and problematic drinking had significantly increased in 16-24 year females but not males. Indeed, in 2003, 16-19 year old females scored higher than their male counterparts had in 1995.

The 2003 female scores for risky and problematic drinking were typically the same or higher than 1995 scores across all ages, with the trend of female levels moving towards that of males.

Of particular concern was the finding that one in every four 14-15 year old Auckland girls and one in five 14-15 year old Auckland boys in the study who presented to their GPs in 2003 were drinking alcohol at a ‘risky’ or ‘problematic’ level. This is the only age group in which females show worse scores than males.

However, the researchers warn that the finding relating to 14 and 15 year olds must be viewed with caution given the relatively small sample size of this age group. They conservatively conclude that at least one in six 14-15 year old girls and one in 11 14 –15 year old boys in 2003 were drinking at a risky or problematic level.

Researcher Professor Ross McCormick says possible reasons for the worsening of female drinking statistics but not males over the 8 year period include a steady cultural change in female alcohol use; the 1999 law liberalisation changes affecting young female behaviour more than males; possible easier access for underage girls than underage boys; and reported rising alcopop use in young females.

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