An invisible group of middle-class New Zealanders are drinking heavily and indulging in both legal and illegal drugs a new survey has found.
The Global Drugs Survey on worldwide drug use has, for the first time, revealed how entrenched alcohol and drugs are in our everyday lives.
Some addiction medicine specialists say that the results of the study have identified important and key trends in our drug use. It shows that drug users fall across a broad spectrum of the population.
The Global Drugs Survey reveals both interesting and shocking glimpses into the drug habits of 5731 New Zealand respondents, who had an average age of 34.7 – around half of whom had an undergraduate degree, and 84 per cent of whom were employed – although the media would have you believe otherwise.
“The media are constantly painting this picture of unemployed youth and homeless being addicted to drugs, but where is the coverage of the white-collar worker that wants to get a little high on the weekends without breaking the law, where are the mums and dads that have kids that have grown up and they just want to take a puff to relive their youth or watch a movie and cuddle up in bed?” said one reader.
Alcohol, the most commonly used substance in New Zealand, is also the substance many are most concerned about. Over 8% admitting to completely blacking out at least once a month while drinking. These admissions are shocking, and a huge wake up call about the culture of alcohol abuse in New Zealand. According to new Ministry of Health data, about one in ten New Zealanders are addicted to alcohol or have an alcohol use disorder.
About one per cent of the survey respondents said that they had received emergency medical help after drinking in the past year. The most common number of drinks consumed in those reported cases being between just 10 and 20 drinks. “This just shows how dangerous and under-rated alcohol is in terms of harm”, said one expert.
Survey founder Adam Winstock said that New Zealanders seemed to use cannabis responsibly but their attitudes towards alcohol were extremely worrying.
A large proportion of those surveyed recorded heavy drinking behaviour, but almost half of them believed their drinking was average or less than average compared with others, he said.
Three-quarters (75%) of the respondents said they had used illegal drugs during their lifetime, almost half said they had used them in the past year, yet legal highs were considered by some to be detrimental to users’ health.
Prescription painkillers were also popular, raising concerns about the ease of access to and dependence on opiates such as oxycodone.
Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said the results could not be taken as a picture of the overall population, but were a great snapshot of drug use.
“We’ve known for a long time that alcohol does cause a lot of problems. People want help for themselves and their loved ones, but where do they go for help?” – Stereotypes about drug users, such as their being confined to gangs and the unemployed, were simply not true. “New Zealand’s drug problem is not just found in state houses, and the sooner we wake up to that problem the better.”
Some of the survey results, such as those regarding prescription medicine use, were worrying and it was important more work was done into how drugs were being used by wider society, he said.
“If we all reflect on ourselves, I’m a drug user – I use alcohol, I use it for a reason and I don’t have a problem with that – but you’re going to get someone else who’s non-alcohol but smokes pot. It’s not to condone drug use, but I think we have to have a better understanding of the role drugs have in people’s lives.”
Most people said that they used drugs not because they had a traumatic childhood or their lives were unpleasant, but because they wanted to relax, he said.
It’s clear that a huge part of the population want an alternative to alcohol, something to help them relax, without the need to break the law or take dangerous and unsafe illegal drugs.