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Alcohol which is commonly referred to as ‘binge’ is regulated, legal and comes in a variety of products in New Zealand. The beverage has proved to have unquestionable features in the contemporary social relations in New Zealand. The better part of New Zealand adults are occasional drinkers and a large majority of them regard it as modernization and positive symbol of hospitality used in celebrating important events. Drinking culture refers to the attitudes and customs shared by particular people who are involved in alcohol drinking. The New Zealand new drinking culture has however raised a lot of concerns as it has been characterized by excessive alcohol use accompanied by the use of harmful intoxication patterns and binge drinking. The consequences of this harmful culture of binge drinking manifest itself in the alarming families and individuals costs as well as the country at large.

It is estimated that the social costs and harms resulting from binge sum up to more than $ 4 billion annually. The cost spreads out to reduced efficiencies in the work places, unemployment, lost production, and direct hospital related costs.   The Ministry of health statistics has it that conditions related to binge drinking account for 3.1% of the male deaths recorded in the country while the female deaths figure sticking at 1.4% (Allamani, 2000, p 239). In New Zealand, the taking of binge has been surrounded by varied and many official regulations and societal norms concerning those allowed to drink by the law, how much  binge should be consumed by an individual, the contexts at which the beverage is being consumed and with whom.

This is to mean that in New Zealand culture, the psychological and social cues induced by binge taking and the citizens’ perception adherence with regards to alcohol are key determinants of how and when it is consumed in any specific occasion.   Hence the cultural and social aspects are the main influencers in shaping the drinking patterns behaviours and the learning to drink. This is to mean that the interests in the people’s culture and the actions arising from these cultures serve as determinants of the nations’ wellbeing and health.  New Zealand as a nation has embarked in culture changing programs that are meant to transform the way its citizen’s drink. The programs are centered at areas such as problem limitation, supply control and demand reduction limitation (Brady 2004, p 56).

Alcohol Trend in New Zealand

The drinking of binge mostly by young adults and teenagers has assumed an increasing trend especially at the University level. This is because such young people involve themselves mostly in events like parties and consider drinking as the best way to socialize. The age group is also vulnerable as most fall victims of peer pressure thus take part in drinking not that they want to but in order to look ‘cool’ among their peers.  The main concern of binge drinking especially at this age is that most of the young men do not understand the dangerous social and health effects associated with drinking. For students, most issues affect their academics through missing classes,    poor concentration in their studies and lower grades. Many youth regard binge taking as a means of attaining adult hood in that when you gate to the legal drinking age, most believe that it is the society’s requirement to go out and drink. (Byrnes 2005, p 100)  

The effect of this trend is an alarming increase in the number of young people in New Zealand seeking refuge in institutions and hospitals. This has become a nations health concern in terms of the well being and safety of the youth in the country.  Hazardous drinking in New Zealand among undergraduate students has proved to being pervasive forming the major cause of related legal, health and social problems. Excessive drinking normally begins from few drinks after class or work on a daily basis that in the long run ends up being   a potentially dangerous and long lasting habit. A part from the social and legal effects of drinking, the major concern in Australia remains at the negative health affects among its citizens (Doesburg 2004, p 5)

Health effects of the drinking culture

Though alcoholism has been associated with a number of benefits such as ritualistic, celebrative and social functions, the drinking culture is mostly associated with the negative impacts and the leading one being its negative health effects. Different alcohol consumption levels have been observed to have different health hazards levels. A modest consumption of alcohol can serve as a preventive measure against diseases such as coronary heart diseases and ischemic stroke.  However, such measures are not enough to prevent health problems such as cancer.  Excessive alcohol consumption is the cause of many detrimental effects. The long term complications associated with the culture include liver, brain and pancreases damage leaving the affected parts irreparable.  Binge is also associated with some types of cancer, cardiac conditions, hemorrhagic stoke and high blood pressure. Unsafe usage of alcohol also lead to injuries and death on the roads, suicide, drowning, domestic violence, assaults, teenage pregnancy, sexual harassment, neurological disorder,  and foetal  alcohol syndrome. It also results in mobility and mortality as well as other sexual health disorders and mental problems. Alcohol consumption has been closely linked to high risks of different forms of cancer such as oral cavity and larynx. It is estimated that for every five citizens in New Zealand, one of them suffers from disorders associated with alcohol in their lives (Eckersley 2005, p 22).

Gender factor

In New Zealand, there is a varying trend in relation to binge consumption on the basis of gender. In most of the situations, the men are observed to drink more frequently as compared to the women and at the same context drink heavily when they decide to do so. Recent statistics indicate that men take in more than seventy three percent of the total alcohol in New Zealand with five percent of the individual consumers  having approximately more than 63 beer cans every week. This can be biologically explained as women posses less ADH in their body which is an enzyme responsible for alcohol metabolism. This is to mean that a lager percentage finds its way to the blood stream of women thus the different and varying effects in men and women.  The ratio of men to women in relation to alcohol consumption stands at five to one. The men also consume an average of 72ml while the women take it 52ml (Lui 2005. p 63).

There exists preferences and taste when it comes to the type of binge consumed by either men or women.  Men are observed to prefer shooters, larger and shorts while women settled for wine and spirits. Despite the strong association of alcohol drinking with men, the women are considered to be more responsible in the consumption of alcohol at the same time behave better when under influence. This can be associated with   the social being of the two genders. Men are more outgoing and frequent bars and social places as compared to women who are expected to stay at home and look after the children and the homestead. The society also contributes to this trend as it finds it normal for men to drink in any way they want which is not the case when it comes to the women position. The women drinking patterns are also influenced by cultural practices and norms depending on the ethnic group they come from.

Changing the drinking culture

The New Zealand National Drug Policy through the National Alcohol Strategy and the Ministry of health has come out strongly with different strategies and proposes that are aimed at reducing the harm and misuse of binge in the country. Some of the approaches adopted by the drug policy include; demand reduction strategies, supply control strategies and harm reduction strategies. The aim of such policies and strategies is to reduce the overall alcohol consumption per capita. By doing so, the number of citizens involved in alcohol consumption is expected to reduce through influencing them to consume less irrespective of their drinking levels. The government has also adjusted its control policies on alcohol consumption to be more than just rules to control the overall consumption levels.  The existing policies are now targeting specific alcohol related problems and certain situations.

The major challenge facing these approaches to change the drinking culture in New Zealand were the deep cultural values and social understanding of the issue as well as the rules connecting the societies. The main body charged with the function of controlling the alarming and hazardous alcohol consumption trend is commonly referred to as the ‘Thinking Drinking’ movement. The movement focused on cultural changes in the society by considering its values. This was aimed at ensuring every citizen preached about changing the culture by adapting several alternative values surrounding alcoholism. The strategies employed by the movement include, the social marketing strategies role in health promotion, targeting communities with mobilizing campaigns, putting more considerations in alcohol promotions reregulation, coming up with multi-sectoral and coordinated frameworks on alcohol policy conventions and the call to increase withdrawal services and alcohol treatment. (Mikaere 2005. p 23)

Conclusion

The cross cultural variation in New Zealand regarding the drinking behaviors of different people cannot be regarded as the main determinants of different consumption levels. The consumption of alcohol as well as the drinking culture at large is governed by norms, social rules, traditions and customs that are normally acquired through personal socialization processes and cultural experiences. The New Zealand cultures and norms seem to encourage the drinking culture among its citizens especially teenagers and young adults.  The social, cultural and biological factors have contributed to the varying trends in alcohol consumption on gender basis. The culture impacted the nation in many different ways including physical, social and mostly health problems. Though the government has come up with measures aimed at reducing binge consumption, its efforts face a number of obstacles such as social understanding and cultural values. Though successful in trying to check on binge consumption, a lot has to be done as the figures of victims still taking part in the act is high.

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