• Alcohol;
  • heavy drinkers;
  • harm to others;
  • health status and wellbeing;
  • impacts


Aims  The impact of alcohol on those other than the drinker is an under-researched area with important policy implications. This study is a first step in investigating relationships between exposure to heavy drinkers in respondent's lives with measures of health status and wellbeing.

Design setting and participants  A cross-sectional general population survey was carried out among 3068 New Zealand residents aged 12–80 years (response rate 64%) using an in-house computer-assisted telephone interviewing system.

Measurements  Respondents' estimates of health status (European Quality of Life–5 Dimensions) and subjective wellbeing (Personal Wellbeing Index) were measured along with self-reports of heavy drinkers in their lives, demographic variables and own drinking.

Findings  More than one in four of the sample had experienced someone they considered to be a heavy drinker in their environment in the past 12 months. An index of exposure to heavy drinkers, reflecting numbers of heavy drinkers and cohabitation, predicted lower health status and personal wellbeing while controlling for demographic variables and respondent's own drinking

Conclusions  Cross-sectional data from a general population sample suggest that there is a relationship between exposure to heavy drinkers and reduced personal wellbeing and poorer health status. Exposure to heavy drinkers may have negative impacts for others.