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Changing trends in young people's drinking

Trend data for young people appears to indicate a slight fall in the proportion of young people consuming alcohol during the past decade.

Office for National Statistics [ONS] figures show that in 2010, 16 to 24 year-olds consumed 11.1 units of alcohol per week, 0.4 units below the overall weekly average 11.5 units (see Figure 1). This is the first time the level of consumption among young people has fallen under that of the total average since a series of revisions to the figures were first made in 2005.

Figure 1: Average weekly alcohol consumption (units), by age: 2005–2010

Source: Office for National Statistics [ONS] (March 2012), Drinking Tables, in 'General Lifestyle Survey, 2010', Table 2.1

 

Longer term trends indicate a convergence between the consumption levels of younger generations and that of their older counterparts. Average consumption among 16 to 24 year-olds peaked in 2001 at 19.4 units per week, 7.3 units more than the overall average of 12.1 units.[1] This tells us that the proportion of young people consuming alcohol to hazardous levels has also declined in recent years, as well as the frequency with which they drink.

 

Proportion of young people drinking in the last week

From 2005 to 2011, the percentage of young people [16 to 24 years] who claimed to have consumed alcohol in the last week has been consistently below the UK average (see Figure 2). Fewer men aged 16 to 24 years consumed alcohol in the last week than any other age group in recent years, although at least half still do [52%]. The proportion of women aged 16 to 24 years who reported drinking at least once in the last week stood at 50% in 2011, compared to 56% in 2005. Only women aged 65 and over recorded lower figures year-on-year in comparison.

Figure 2: Drinking in the last week (%), by age and sex: 2005–2011 

Source: ONS (March 2013), Drinking [Chapter 2], in 'General Lifestyle Survey, 2011', Table 2.1

 

Frequency of youth drinking

Between 2005 and 2011 (see Figure 3), the proportion of young people who consumed alcohol on 5 or more days in the last week remained consistently below the overall average for adults. The percentage of 16 to 24 year-old males who drank on 5 or more days in the last week is 5%, 11 percentage points below the average for all age groups; the percentage of 16 to 24 year-old females who drank on 5 or more days in the last week is 3%, 6 percentage points below the average for all female age groups [9%].

Figure 3: Drinking 5 or more days in the last week (%), by age and sex: 2005–2011 

Source: ONS, Drinking [Chapter 2], in 'GLS, 2011', Table 2.3

 

Drinking above the recommended guidelines

Between 2005 and 2011, the proportion of 16 to 24 year-old males and females drinking above recommended low-risk guidelines fell from 46% to 32% and 41% to 31% respectively. The proportion of 16 to 24 year-old men drinking above recommended guidelines at least 1 day in the last week was slightly below the overall average for all male adults [32% compared to 34% total]. A higher proportion of 16 to 24 year-old women reported drinking more than the guidelines on at least 1 day in the previous week compared with the national average for all female age groups [31% compared to 28% total] in 2011.

Figure 4: Maximum daily amount above the recommended daily guidelines, 2005–2011

Source: ONS, Drinking [Chapter 2], in 'GLS, 2011', Table 2.2

 

The proportion of young people drinking at least twice the recommended number of units in a session (heavy episodic drinking) at least once a week fell from 32% to 22% for men and 27% to 18% for women between 2005 and 2011, but remained above the total averages for both sexes. The 18% of 16 to 24 year-old women who drank at least twice the recommended number of units in a session in the last week represented the highest proportion of binge drinkers of any female age group.

 

What do young people drink?

ONS figures for Great Britain show that in 2009, 16 to 24 year-old males are most likely to drink beers/lagers/ciders and spirits, consuming 7.9 (normal strength), 4.1 (high strength), and 3.3 units per capita per week. Females are most likely to drink spirits and wine (4.0 and 2.5 units respectively).

Figure 5: Average weekly consumption of different types of drink, by gender and age, 2009

Source: ONS, Drinking: Adults' behaviour and knowledge in 2009, Table 2.9, in Statistics on Alcohol 2012 (May 2012)



References

[1]   Office for National Statistics [ONS] (March 2012), 'General Lifestyle Survey, 2010'