Newspaper Icon13 Dec 2022: Media - Action needed to address high levels of alcohol harm among Rainbow students

3th December 2022

Action needed to address high levels of alcohol harm among Rainbow students 

Action needed to address high levels of alcohol harm among Rainbow students High school students who identify as part of Rainbow communities experience high levels of alcohol harm, especially sexual harm, an analysis of Youth2000 survey data has shown.

The analysis was part of a broader project to examine alcohol use and harm among high school students in Aotearoa New Zealand, and was undertaken by the Department of Public Health, University of Otago (Wellington), Alcohol Healthwatch and the Adolescent Health Research Group. Funding was received from the nib foundation and Te Hiringa Hauora/Health Promotion Agency.

In 2019, over half (52%) of Rainbow young people were current drinkers and almost half (45%) of drinkers reported binge drinking at least once in the past month. Results showed that a supportive home and school environment protected Rainbow young people from engaging in high-risk drinking.

Tabby Besley, Managing Director of InsideOUT, says, “Rainbow young people have a right to live, study, and play in inclusive settings that enable them to thrive. It is likely that an unsupportive home or school environment may give rise to alcohol being used as a coping mechanism by Rainbow young people.”

The study found that Rainbow students experienced greater harm from their drinking compared to nonRainbow students, most notably sexual harm. One in five (20%) Rainbow drinkers reported engaging in risky sexual activity (sex without a condom) and 12% reported having unwanted sex while using alcohol.

“It’s not surprising to see this result, however, it is concerning. Rainbow young people disproportionately experience a range of factors that increase the risk of alcohol harm, including marginalisation, discrimination, structural disadvantage, and violence. It is also important to note that the lack of comprehensive, inclusive sex education in Aotearoa is likely to play a role in the sexual harms reported. For too long, the primary focus of sex education has been on heterosexual relations, which negatively impacts our Rainbow students. Alcohol use, together with a lack of inclusive sex education, exacerbates the potential and inequities in harm”, adds Besley.

University of Auckland Senior Lecturer Dr John Fenaughty says the current research is vital to inform public health efforts to increase wellbeing and reduce health inequities among queer communities. “The findings from this research, and those from the ‘Identify’ and ‘Counting Ourselves’ surveys, can greatly assist to inform effective and appropriate policy and interventions so that funding can be directed to where it will make the biggest difference. It is essential that inequities in outcomes among Rainbow young people are addressed as early as possible”, says Dr Fenaughty.

nib foundation Executive Officer, Amy Tribe, said that it’s important that this research gets into the right hands to facilitate positive change. “The unique experience of Rainbow youth is not well enough understood when it comes to alcohol harm and this research was an opportunity to bring it into the spotlight. We hope these insights will help inform policymakers, programme developers, and those who work with Rainbow young people so that they can provide the appropriate support to contribute towards better LGBTQI+ youth health outcomes.”

The new study notes that Rainbow students are influenced by New Zealand’s wider drinking culture, and highlights the need for population-level approaches to reduce alcohol use and prevent harm. Alcohol Healthwatch calls on the Government to implement policies that address the low price of alcohol, high availability and widespread advertising and promotion of alcohol (particularly in social media) as these measures are the most effective, cost-effective and pro-equity in reducing harm. Shifting the country’s drinking culture will not only protect current generations of young people, but generations to follow.


Tabby Besley, Managing Director of InsideOUT 022 029 8697
John Fenaughty, Senior Lecturer, University of Auckland 021 442 872

If this topic has raised any issues for you, you can find support at:

Rainbow support
RainbowYOUTH: or
Outline: 0800 688 5463, or online chat from 6-9pm

Sexual harm support
Help: 0800 623 1700 Safe to Talk: 0800 044 334 or free text 4334
Alcohol use support Alcohol and Drug Helpline – 0800 787 797 or online chat.

General mental health support
Youthline: 0800 376 633 or text 234
Need To Talk: 173