Researchers warn it's likely more New Zealand women dying from alcohol than ever before

A new study has found more US women are dying from alcohol than ever before - and New Zealand researchers say that's likely the case here too.

Alcohol-related deaths among American women increased by nearly 15 percent every year from 2018 to 2020.

From 2018 to 2020, deaths among women climbed by 14.7 percent, while the rate for men was 12.5 percent.

There are no similar studies here, but New Zealand researcher Professor Jennie Connor said it's likely the same story here in Aoteraroa: restrictions on the sale and advertising of alcohol were loosened in 1989, and drinks such as RTDs were introduced.

"That could well be flowing through and increasing women's deaths from alcohol more than men's," said Connor, an emeritus professor at the University of Otago.

It's been called New Zealand's most harmful drug, with about 80 percent of Kiwis aged over 14 now considered drinkers. This potentially deadly problem is reflected in our cancer statistics, as alcohol can cause hormone imbalances and trigger changes in cells.

"Breast cancer is the most prevalent of alcohol-related deaths in New Zealand," said Connor.

And advertising isn't helping. Researchers say there's an increase in alcohol marketing and even memes aimed at women - such as the #WineMum trend - as well as ads for 'girly drinks'.

"They're targeted with highly personalised content, so the algorithms are so sophisticated now they're targeted to individual women," said Massey University's senior public health researcher Taisia Huckle.

She wants alcohol to be less available, more expensive and its advertising more strictly regulated.

"Alcohol companies self-regulate, and it doesn't work," she said.

Those companies disagree. The NZ Alcohol Beverages Council executive director Virginia Nicholls said women are drinking less and are drinking less hazardously, according to the NZ Annual Health Survey.

"The prevalence of hazardous drinking was 25.2 percent among men and 12.5 percent among women: this is the lowest percentage of hazardous drinking for women since the survey began in 2015," she said.

Under new legislation, local communities will have a greater voice in alcohol licensing decisions, but Connor fears it won't be enough.

"The alcohol industry is embedded in our country like it is in many other countries," she said.