Alcohol-related injury admissions to public hospitals have increased, with 10-14 year olds and the female population demonstrating some of the biggest increases.

Alcohol Healthwatch Director Rebecca Williams says that they have compared hospitalisation admission data* for the three years prior and three years following the 1999 lowering of the minimum purchase age. She says the hospitalisation data adds weight to other information pointing to increasing levels of alcohol-related harm and supports calls being made for the minimum purchase age to be returned to 20 years.

The data indicates that there was an 87% increase in the number of alcohol-related hospital admissions for 10-14 year olds. This compares with a 12% increase for 15-19 year olds. The data highlights the toxic effect alcohol can have on the human body with nearly 80% of 10-14 year old admissions during 2000-2002 being for alcohol poisoning. Williams calls for policy-makers to take a good hard look at the effects of the current alcohol environment, including the lowered purchase age, on the children of this country.

Another concerning feature of the data is how it points to the increase in harm to females relative to males – with a 31% increase in the number of admissions compared to a 5% increase for males. The number and rate of admissions for 10 -14 year old girls more than doubled. This raises questions of access and what the real ‘drinking age’ is.

Overall the data shows an increase of nearly 20% percent in the number of hospitalisations across the country between the two time periods. Increases can be seen in all of the country’s key ethnic groupings.

The increase in hospitalisations coincides with an overall increase in alcohol consumption over the same time period. Williams says that policy makers can no longer ignore the need to take effective action. They can not expect communities and under-resourced agencies to manage the harmful effects of alcohol. A range of policy responses must be taken including increasing the price of alcohol, increasing restrictions on alcohol marketing and returning the minimum purchase age to 20 years.

Alcohol Injury Summary 1997-2002 (PDF)
Alcohol Injury Data 1997-2002 (PDF)

Rebecca Williams
Alcohol Healthwatch
Phone: 09 520 7035
Mobile: 021 862 250

*Data are taken from patients admitted to a public hospital for at least one night with a primary diagnosis of injury between 1997 and 2002. It does not include day patients, readmissions for the same injury or patients discharged dead.