COVID-19 lockdown shining a spotlight on New Zealand's drinking problem

An alcohol and health expert says the COVID-19 lockdown has enabled a rise in harmful drinking, as Kiwis move away from the controlled environment of bars and into their homes.

Dr Nicki Jackson, the Alcohol Healthwatch executive director, says when people think of harmful drinking, often the first place people visualise is a bar - but times are changing.

"For so long we've shined the spotlight on bars and nightclubs and the assaults that are associated with them," she told The AM Show on Tuesday. 

"I think we've really neglected the burden of the harmful drinking episodes that are happening at home."

Research shows 75 percent of all alcohol is sold from off licenses and with lockdowns closing the usual drinking venues, this could climb even higher.

"People have moved away from controlled environments to drinking at home - and this exposes families, children and neighbors to a range of harm," she said

Although the COVID-19 lockdown has closed the bars and pushed the problem into the limelight, it's not something that has sprung up overnight .

"We've enabled this to happen," said Dr Jackson. 

"There's bottle stores on every corner, we've got cheap booze, and now you can order online. You can order alcohol with your pizza and it'll be there within the hour so we really have enabled everything in our environment."

It can be hard to differentiate between what is normal drinking and what is problem drinking, especially in New Zealand where alcohol is such a large part of socialising and culture - but Dr Jackson says there are a few telltale signs which indicate it could be time to seek help.

"Look at why you're drinking - are you drinking to cope? We know that when you're drinking around psychological distress, those are the risk factors," she said.

The other sign of a problem is daily drinking.

"If you're drinking more during the week and  drinking earlier then it's time to take stock of your relationship with alcohol."

Where to find help and support: 

  • Alcohol and drug helpline - Call 0800 787 797 or text 8681
  • Shine (domestic violence) - 0508 744 633
  • Women's Refuge - 0800 733 843 (0800 REFUGE)
  • Need to Talk? - Call or text 1737
  • What's Up - 0800 WHATS UP (0800 942 8787)
  • Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
  • Youthline - 0800 376 633, text 234, email or online chat
  • Samaritans - 0800 726 666
  • Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
  • Shakti Community Council - 0800 742 584