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Alcohol Available For Consumption Continues Downward Trend

Just-released data from StatsNZ shows the amount of alcohol available for consumption per person over the legal purchase age continues a steady downward trend, and is now almost 10% per cent down from a decade ago (see Graph 1.)

“The figures to the year ended June 2020, which includes lockdown, show that available alcohol continues to fall and is now at 9.05 litres per head of population (persons 18 years and older).[i] What’s more encouraging is this confirms the downward trend we are seeing measured by the OECD (of persons 15 years and over), which now is at its lowest in 20 years[ii],” said NZ Alcohol Beverages Council Executive Director, Bridget MacDonald. (see Graph 2.)

Graph 1. Litres of Alcohol Per Head of Population in New Zealand (Annual-Jun, 18 years and over)

Source: Stats NZ Infoshare (June 2020)

Graph 2. Litres of Alcohol Per Head of Population in New Zealand (Annual-Jun, 15 years and over)

Source: Stats NZ Infoshare (June 2020)

“As a nation, we’re seeing positive downward trends in our drinking culture and a culture shift in attitudes and behaviours – fewer younger people are drinking[iii], we’re seeing less hazardous drinking[iv], we are drinking 25% less per capita today than we did in the ’70s and ’80s, and our consumption is below the OECD average,” says Bridget.

But, what Bridget says is really pleasing is that even with pressures of COVID-19 and lockdowns, some of the trends we have seen over lockdown have continued.

“The majority of Kiwis are moderate and responsible drinkers and remained so even under the pressures of lockdown with around a third drinking less. It was hoped these behaviours would continue after lockdown, and a recent government report[v] shows some positive changes. While the research showed a general return to usual levels of drinking, 22% of Kiwis reported they are still drinking less than usual. Economic reasons accounted for 33% of people drinking less, but 24% said it was to be healthier, and 23% to use the opportunity to reduce how much they were drinking.

“The proportion of every day drinkers decreased from 19% during lockdown Level 4 down to 11% post-lockdown – especially those aged 25-49 (at 7%, down from 14%) and 50-64 years (at 9%, down from 23%). Younger adults have generally been leading the charge in changing attitudes and behaviours toward alcohol – but it’s looking like older adults have also been making better decisions around alcohol based on their personal circumstances, situation and their lifestyle.

“The challenge for New Zealand is to ensure the downward trends in hazardous drinking not only continue but are accelerated. This can only be achieved by taking a pragmatic all-of-society approach. Targeted education and support programmes are key to helping people understand how alcohol can affect them and to make better decisions. Industry research shows 8 out of 10 New Zealanders support this approach,” Bridget says.

Need help?

  • Call the Alcohol Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797, free txt 8681, or visit alcoholdrughelp.org.nz.
  • Check out cheers.org.nz and alcoholandme.org.nz for more information on what a standard drink is and how to make better drinking decisions.
  • Refer to the Ministry of Health’s Low-risk alcohol drinking advice. Reduce your long-term health risks by drinking no more than:
  • two standard drinks a day for women and no more than 10 standard drinks a week,
  • three standard drinks a day for men and no more than 15 standard drinks a week,
  • AND have at least two alcohol-free days every week.


Formed in early 2018, the New Zealand Alcohol Beverages Council (NZABC) is a pan-industry group that speaks for those Kiwis who want to see a fair and balanced approach to alcohol attitudes, laws and regulation in New Zealand. At NZABC, we believe partnerships between local and central government, communities, and the alcohol sector, along with great education, are the best ways to reduce harm and maximise enjoyment from alcohol for everyone.

References below

[i] StatsNZ Infoshare, Alcohol available for consumption to June 2020 (25 August 2020), http://archive.stats.govt.nz/infoshare/. The legal purchase age is persons 18 years and over. Data shows 9.055 litres per head of population (18 years and older) in 2020, and 10.032 litres in 2010. A 9.7% decrease.

[ii] StatsNZ Infoshare, Alcohol available for consumption to June 2020 (25 August 2020), http://archive.stats.govt.nz/infoshare/. Data shows 8.635 litres per head of population (15 years and older) in 2020, and 9.477 litres in 2010, resulting in a 8.8% decrease. And, 10.073 litres in 1990, resulting in a 14.3% decrease. The per head of population (15 years and older) is the measure used by the OECD, which defines alcohol consumption as the annual sales of pure alcohol in litres per person aged 15 years and older, and tracks this annually.

[iii] International Journal of Drug Policy, Volume 84, October 2020, What explains the decline in adolescent binge-drinking in New Zealand? University of Otago research shows this positive downward trend in hazardous drinking by young people. Alcohol industry research shows nearly 80% of Kiwis support education programmes in schools.

[iv] Ministry of Health, National Health Survey, 2018/19 Fewer Kiwis are drinking and hazardous drinking is gradually declining.

[v] Health Promotion Agency, Post-lockdown survey - the impact on health risk behaviours, 28 July 2020 https://www.hpa.org.nz/research-library/research-publications/post-lockdown-survey-the-impact-on-health-risk-behaviours

The impact of lockdown on health risk behaviour, 21 Apr 2020, https://www.hpa.org.nz/research-library/research-publications/the-impact-of-lockdown-on-health-risk-behaviours

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