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Underage drinking

In the UK, a significant proportion of children have not only experienced drinking alcohol by the time they are allowed to purchase an alcoholic beverage (i.e. before 18 years of age), but are likely to have been drunk at least once in the last 4 weeks. Many have also admitted to having consumed alcohol to harmful levels by adult standards by the age of 15.

Although trend data suggest consumption levels had peaked in recent years, the UK still ranks highly among the worst offenders in Europe for underage drinking activity, and this has a negative impact on the wider society. Drinking attitudes among adolescents appear relaxed toward the idea of getting drunk, as long as they didn't drink too much.

Evidence also indicates that alcohol plays a significant role in the amount of crime committed by people under the age of 18. Recent studies also suggest that alcohol can cause negative neurological effects into adulthood.

This series of factsheets presents information about the impact alcohol has on people aged up to 18 years, the minimum legal age for purchasing alcohol unsupervised in the UK. The main ONS statistical publications focus solely on legal adult consumption, because children are prohibited from purchasing alcohol in social settings (i.e. on-licensed premises) until 18 years of age.* However, surveys focused exclusively on underage drinking provide the most reliable trend data on the alcohol consumption habits of children over the last decade.

Click on links opposite to view individual factsheets, or on the image below to download the pdf:



*       N.B. People aged 16 or 17 may consume wine, beer or cider on licensed premises when ordered with a meal. In England and Wales, it must be an adult who orders; however, an adult doesn't have to be present to order alcohol with a meal in Scotland.