Men get the message; women still risky drinkers

HUNTER men appear to be getting the message and are changing their risky drinking habits, but there has been no significant change in women’s behaviour.

The mixed picture is revealed in the latest NSW Health data on people who consume more than two standard drinks a day when consuming alcohol, considered by health authorities as risky consumption.

In the eight years to 2010 the number of men in Hunter New England Health district engaging in risky drinking dropped from 49.4per cent to 39.6per cent.

Over the same time the NSW average for men went from 43.2per cent to 39.6per cent.

Hunter New England Health’s population health director Dr John Wiggers described the regional decrease of almost 10per cent as ‘‘a very positive sign’’.

‘‘The population and community has responded to community debate,’’ Dr Wiggers said. ‘‘Increased awareness helps people think about drinking behaviour.’’

At the same time the rate of risky drinking in Hunter New England women increased 1.4 per cent, from 22.6 per cent in 2002 to 24 per cent in 2010.

This compares to a drop in NSW females over the eight years from 21.2per cent to 19.9per cent.

Lauren Wilkinson, who was out celebrating her 21st birthday with a few close friends on the weekend, said that while she would only go out perhaps once a month, a lot of women were the polar opposite.

“There are some who will go out every weekend and will have more than 10 to 15 drinks in a night,” she said.

“I think a lot of girls [drink so much] to get more confidence and loosen up a bit. They also often go out on an empty stomach, which can be a big problem.”

Ms Wilkinson’s friend, Noni Lane, of Bar Beach, agreed that a confidence boost was the main reason women aged between 18-23 would drink so much.

“I’ll usually have about four drinks when I go out and maybe one before,” she said.

“But a lot of girls will concentrate on pre-drinking because drinks are so expensive [out in town].

‘‘It’s usually the fresh 18 year olds.”

Dr Wiggers said the region was starting to see a ‘‘significant change in consumption’’ patterns for men, which had resulted in a 26per cent reduction in assault-related hospital emergency department presentations over three years.

He said there was no doubt the liquor licensing restrictions in the Hunter had resulted in a decrease in alcohol-related violence.

But he said there was still plenty of work to be done in tackling the ever-increasing issue of binge drinking and people ending up in hospital due to alcohol abuse.

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