New Zealand

Impact of the New Zealand Minimum Drinking Age on Context Specific Drinking Risks

Principal Investigator:

Paul Gruenewald


Nat. Inst. - Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism
09/01/11 - 07/31/13
Overview: Increases in the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) have been shown to reduce alcohol use and related problems among young people in the US. As a policy tool, MLDA laws are effective, easy to implement and enforce and, although underage youth can still obtain alcohol through other means, generally beneficial to society. Nevertheless economic and political pressures to lower MLDAs are strong in the US and other countries. These pressures have led to a recent decrease in the minimum purchase age for alcohol (MPA) in New Zealand. One argument in support of this change was that high MPAs would lead underage youth to drink excessively in environments with little social control; as an alternative strategy, it was proposed that a lowered drinking age would lead to greater drinking in socially controlled environments where problems were less likely. This project examined the impacts of the lowered MPA on frequencies of use of different drinking contexts and related risks among underage, newly of-age, and of-age drinkers in New Zealand. Findings: Among newly of-age youth, the lowered MPA was related to greater frequencies of use in contexts which also presented the greatest risks for alcohol problems, pubs and nightclubs. The already high risks for problems related to drinking in pubs and nightclubs further increased after the MPA law. Clearly, the law did not lead to greater drinking in socially controlled environments with lower risks for alcohol problems. Among underage youth, the lowered MPA led to greater drinking and greater use of alcohol in less socially controlled environments, other persons’ homes. Conclusions: This project developed methods for the assessment of context specific drinking risks that enabled exploration of the impacts of the lowered MPA in New Zealand on youth drinking and related problems. The model developed for this purpose enabled us to examine whether commercial drinking venues provided safer drinking contexts for newly of-age drinkers subsequent to the lowered MPA; they did not. Bars and nightclubs continued to present all drinkers with higher risks for problems than any other venue. Bar and nightclubs were more often frequented by newly of-age drinkers.