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Drinking in 11-15 year olds in England, 2006

The number of under-age drinkers may be falling, but the amount they drink is increasing, especially amongst the youngest drinkers. Most obtained alcohol from family or friends, but of those who tried to buy it from a shop, pub or club, most 15 year olds claimed to have been successful. Those who thought that their parents didn’t mind them drinking, within limits, were more likely to drink but less likely to get drunk than those whose parents didn’t/wouldn’t like them to drink.

A report from the National Centre for Social Research gives the latest figures on drinking in 11-15 year olds. Information was obtained from 8,200 pupils in 288 schools throughout England in the autumn term of 2006.

How many pupils drink, and how much?

3% of 11 year olds had drunk alcohol in the last seven days, rising to 41% of 15 year olds, which was similar for boys and for girls. Since 1988, these figures have fluctuated between 3% and 7% of 11 year olds and between 40% and 53% of 15 year olds.

Among pupils who drank alcohol in the last seven days, boys drank more than girls, an average of 12.3 units a week for boys, 10.5 for girls. For 11-13 year olds, this has risen fairly steadily from an average of 3.4 units in 1992 (the first year this was analysed by age group) to 10.1 units in 2006. For 15 year olds, the average rose from 8.1 units in 1992, remaining fairly stable at between 12 ands 13 units since 2000. About half (49%) of pupils consumed an average of more than four units on the days they did drink; 22% consumed three or four units; and 28% consumed an average of two units or less. These proportions were similar for the different age groups.

Where do they get the alcohol?

Pupils are more likely to be given alcohol than to buy it, most commonly by family or friends. However, about half of pupils who said they currently drank also bought alcohol, despite it being illegal to sell alcohol to anyone under the age of 18. They were most likely to buy alcohol from friends or relatives (20% of current drinkers) or off-licences (18%). Relatively few pupils who drank alcohol bought it from shops or supermarkets (13%) or pubs and bars (7%).

The usual places that pupils buy alcohol from differed according to age. Among 11-12 year olds who bought alcohol, the most common source was a friend or relative (45%) and these remained important sources for all age groups. Other sources, for example off-licences or shops (both 14%) were relatively uncommon sources of alcohol for 11-12 year olds who did buy alcohol. For older pupils, the most common source was an off-licence (40% of 15 year olds who bought alcohol), followed by friends or relatives (34%), shops or supermarkets (29%), and pubs or bars (19%) 

Those who had tried to buy alcohol from a shop, supermarket, off-licence, pub or club in the last four weeks were asked how successful they had been on their most recent attempt. Of those who had tried to buy alcohol from a pub or club, 82% had been successful on their most recent attempt; the equivalent figure for an attempted purchase from any type of shop was 66%. Older pupils were more likely to have been successful on the last occasion – for example 90% of 15 year olds who had attempted to purchase alcohol from a pub or club were successful on the last occasion compared with 56% of 11-13 year olds. 

What do their parents think?

Pupils were asked what their parents/guardians felt about their drinking. More than half of pupils thought their families wouldn’t mind them drinking, although for most this attitude was dependent on them not drinking too much (53%), and very few pupils thought that their family would let them drink as much as they liked (2%). Just under half of pupils (45%) thought their families wouldn’t like them to drink alcohol. Parents became more tolerant with age; 67% of 11 year olds said their family wouldn’t like them to drink, compared with 26% of 15 year olds

Family attitudes were related to whether or not pupils drank alcohol. Three quarters of pupils who had never drunk alcohol (75%) said their parents wouldn’t like them to.

However, a similar proportion (76%) of pupils who had drunk alcohol, but not in the last week, thought their parents didn’t mind them drinking. Among pupils who had drunk alcohol in the last week, 80% said their parents didn’t mind them drinking, and a further 5% said their parents let them drink as much as they liked 

There was also a link between family attitudes and whether pupils had recently been drunk. Information about pupils’ drunkenness was collected only from pupils who had drunk alcohol in the last four weeks. Within this group, 52% of pupils whose parents didn’t mind them drinking within limits had been drunk. Pupils who believed their parents were either more strict or more lenient were more likely to have been drunk. Among pupils whose parents didn’t like them drinking, 70% had been; the corresponding proportion among the small group of pupils who said their families didn’t mind how much they drank was 71%.

What else do we know about underage drinkers?

Associations were found between drinking and other patterns of behaviour. Those who had drunk in the last week were also more likely to have been in a pub in the last four weeks and to smoke, take other drugs and to have truanted from school at some point. White pupils were more likely to have drunk alcohol recently than those from other ethnic groups.


Source: Fuller, E. (2007) Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England in 2006. A survey carried out for The Information Centre for health and social care by the National Centre for Social Research and the National Foundation for Educational  Research http://www.ic.nhs.uk/pubs/sdd06fullreport