The risks, the law, the effects,


Alcohol is produced by fermenting fruits, vegetables or grains. It is found in drinks like beer, lager, wine, alcopops, cider, and spirits such as whiskey or gin. Alcoholic drinks range in strength and are measured as a percentage (%) per volume. The higher the percentage, the stronger the effect.

Alcohol is the most widely used psychoactive (mood-changing) drug in New Zealand. It has been estimated that in New Zealand the negative costs of alcohol use on society each year overall are $16.1 billion per year.

The effects:

  • Over 90% of the adult population enjoy a drink. For most people, alcohol has a relaxing effect and helps them feel more sociable;
  • It can become a problem for some when they drink as a way of blotting out difficult or troubling issues in their lives;
  • In increasing quantities, speech can become slurred, co-ordination affected and emotions heightened;
  • The intensity of the effects depends on the strength of the alcoholic drink, plus the rate and amount consumed;
  • Other factors that influence the effects of alcohol include the weight of the drinker, their mood and surroundings and how recently they ate;
  • Hangovers make you feel ill for a period of time, usually hours but sometimes even for days.

The risks:

  • Alcohol is a depressant drug. If you’re feeling down, it will make you feel worse;
  • A regular, long term drinking habit can lead to physical as well as psychological dependency;
  • Tolerance can develop, which means you need more to get the same effect;
  • A long term, heavy drinking habit may cause serious damage to internal organs. It can also cause skin problems, trembling (the shakes), obesity, brain damage, mood swings and personality changes;
  • Getting very drunk can lead to loss of consciousness. Users then have a slight risk of choking to death on their own vomit;
  • Drinking too much can lead to alcohol poisoning. This can kill, although it is fairly rare.
  • Withdrawal from alcohol can be fatal due to seizures and delirium tremens and should be monitored closely.

The law:

In New Zealand it is illegal to sell alcohol to anyone under 18.  In designated areas persons under 18 may purchase and consume alcohol if under the supervision of their legal guardian.

Under twenty:

From August 2011 there is a zero alcohol limit if you are under 20. That means if you drive after consuming even one drink you can be charged with drink driving.

Twenty or over: 

From 1st December 2014 the alcohol limit for drivers aged 20 years and over lowered from 400mcg of alcohol per litre of breath to 250mcg.  The blood alcohol lowered from 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood (0,08), to 50mg (0.05).

It is difficult to say how many alcoholic drinks you can have before you reach these limits.  According to the Ministry of Transport Website,  guidance from the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) indicates that most adults may be able to drink two standard drinks over two hours and are likely to remain under the new drink-driving limits for adults.

However, even small amounts of alcohol can affect your driving, the best advice is: if you drink at all, don’t drive.

A simple tool to help you determine whether you have a problem…

It’s what’s known as the ‘4 L’s’. These refer to Liver, Lover, Livelihood and Legal – or four areas of your life including your physical health, your relationships, your work and any legal consequences where symptoms might show up.

Take a minute to think about it.

1. Liver
Health needn’t just be about your actual liver. are there other physical side effects you are experiencing? Have you injured yourself while out of it? Has a doctor recommended you cut down for any reason?

2. Lover
In your relationships with partner, children, parents or friends, has your drinking led to some negative consequences, arguments or hostility? Have you perhaps lost a good friend or partner because of something which related to your using? Do people close to you sometimes have to lie to cover for you? Are your children affected?

3. Livelihood
This really refers to your work or family responsibilities. Are there times you’ve failed to be where you’re meant to be or do what’s expected of you because you are drunk, hungover or out of it? Have you had a warning at work or done something stupid at a company function? Even if no one else knows, is your drinking or drug use affecting your day-to-day work? Holding you back from being at your best?

4. Legal
This one is fairly obvious. It’s about things like DIC’s, or being busted for drug-related crime. Sometimes drinking makes people much more hostile than they ordinarily are and violence might be an issue. Sometimes it’s just about doing something illegal or dishonest – even if you weren’t caught.

In summary, if you have experienced difficulty in any one or more of these four areas because of your drinking or drug use, you may have a problem.

How to cut down      

  • Drink small glasses of wine
  • Buy shandies and spritzers
  • Go for low-alcohol drinks
  • Don’t drink every day
  • Alternate alcoholic drinks with soft drinks
  • Eat before drinking
  • Drink water between jugs
  • Avoid “happy hour” offers
  • Add mixers to spirits
  • Avoid binge drinking
  • Opt out of rounds
  • Keep a drinks count
  • Refuse drink top-ups