Did you know there is no legal drinking age in New Zealand? We have a legal purchase age which is 18 years old, but it is not illegal for people under 18 to drink as long as they have permission from their parent or legal guardian.

Legal age aside, there is increasing debate about when our kids should start drinking which has long been a source of angst for parents and deceit for teenagers. We were all 16 once right! We thought we knew it all but now as a 40 something year old mother of two I am starting to think quite differently about all this and below are the top 10 facts I wished I had known when I was younger.


You can have a great time without drinking alcohol. You should never feel like you have to drink if you don’t want to. Never put pressure on others and don’t feel pressured yourself as we are all different.   #youdrinkyou


No matter how grown up for feel, your vital organs, including your brain and liver, are not fully grown until you are in your mid to late 20’s. That’s why adolescents have an increased sensitivity to alcohol while they are developing.


A healthy adult liver (aka over 25yrs old) can only process 1 standard drink (10 grams) of pure alcohol an hour and there is no way to speed this process up. For adolescents, the liver will be more sluggish than this so allow more time for alcohol processing.



If you drink faster than 1 standard drink per hour, the excess alcohol will enter your bloodstream and do a tiki tour of your body while it waits for the liver to catch up. First stop on the tour is your heart – your heart rate slows down and you typically feel more relaxed which might sound great but to achieve this you are asking your heart to ‘babysit’ the alcohol which is a distraction from the important job it has to do to keep you alive. Next the alcohol goes to your brain which is why you start saying and doing things you wouldn’t otherwise do. The quality of the decisions you make after the first drop of alcohol passes your lips will always be poorer than what you decide sober! If your liver still hasn’t caught up, your lungs will pick up the workload and you will get boozy breath…. Yuk! If your system is completely maxed out, you will start sweating it out the pores of your skin. you can watch a video on this here.

It is important to understand that a standard drink is not necessarily a bottle or a glass. The size of a standard drink depends on what you are drinking but here are some common examples below:

100mls wine = 1 Standard drink

255mls of 5% beer or cider = 1 Standard drink

30mls spirit = 1 Standard drink

180ml 7% RTD = 1 Standard drink

You can practice pouring standard drinks on our website here


Regular heavy consumption (i.e. more than 10 std drinks per week for woman, 15 std drink per week for men) may result in impaired brain development in adolescents and young adults.


Smaller, lighter people, including those who are still growing, have less body tissue to absorb alcohol, so they typically feel the effects of alcohol more.


Your functional tolerance for alcohol improves the more you drink. It is a behavioural adaptation that happens for some people when they drink lots and more often. It may appear that your liver is handling the alcohol better but actually your liver is just living in a heightened state of “go”. This is fine on occasion but long term it can result in physical dependence and alcohol related organ damage.


Being a teen is a hugely emotional time for most so it is important to be aware that stress emotions such as sadness, anger, anxiety and depression can change the enzymes in the stomach which in turn effect how we process alcohol and feel the effects of alcohol.


If you are going to drink make sure you have plenty of water before, during and after. Water helps to dilute alcohol so while it won’t stop you from getting drunk, it will help you to reduce the effects of the alcohol on your body and mind. Alcohol is a diuretic –you need to go to the toilet a lot when you drink so keeping yourself hydrated is key to waking up without a headache!

FACT 10:

Eating is not cheating when it comes to alcohol. Like water, eating will not stop you from getting drunk but a full belly does help to slow down the absorption of alcohol in your body so it will help you to feel the effects of the alcohol less.

In addition, as a young woman I wish I had been aware of the following fundamental differences between myself and my male counterparts:

  • Females have less of the enzyme ADH that breaks down alcohol in the stomach which contributes towards a higher BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration) than males drinking the same amount of alcohol.
  • Hormone levels also affect the body’s ability to process alcohol e.g. woman will experience higher BAC’s drinking the same amount of alcohol right before menstruation.

Every family will make different choices around how and when they introduce their kids to alcohol, but I plan to tuck this information away for the day I need it with my own kids.

All in all, delaying drinking alcohol until you are in your 20’s is by far the safest decision but when/if my kids start drinking I would rather they did it knowing the facts so that they can make informed choices that are right for them. I hope this helps as a thought starter for others in a similar position and as always we are keen to hear your thoughts so feel free to contact us on alcoholandme@lionco.com .

For more practical tips and advice on making smarter drinking choices check out our Standard Drink Calculator and online modules here.


Jude – Alcohol&Me Programme Manager


P.S – You can find out more about talking to teens about alcohol on the Cheers! website