Newly published survey data shows a wide gap in the alcohol consumption habits of different age groups, with over 45s twice as likely to drink on 5 days or more than younger age groups.

The Drinking chapter of the new General Lifestyle Survey found that among those surveyed in 2011, men aged 45-64 and 65 and over were at least twice as likely as those aged 16-24 and 24-44 to have had a drink on 5 or more days in the week before interview (22%,24%, 5% and 11% respectively).

The survey reports an overall decline in frequent drinking in the last 13 years: The proportion of men and women drinking on 5 or more days a week fell from 23-16% and 13%-9% respectively, between 1998 and 2011.

There was also a decline heavy episodic drinking amongst 16-24 year olds between 2007 and 2011, as the proportion of young men and women who reported drinking more than twice the recommended unit guidelines1 on one day in the week prior to the survey fell from 32-22% and 24-18% respectively.

However, women aged 16 to 24 years were most likely to engage in heavy episodic drinking than any other group, with 18% reporting drinking more than six units on their heaviest drinking day in the last week, 6 percentage points above the total average [12%] in 2011.

Katherine Brown, Director of Policy at IAS said:

These data show some encouraging trends, but they also highlight some worrying drinking patterns, particularly amongst young women.

We know that young women are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of alcohol, not only in regards to long-term health risks such as breast cancer, but also short-term risks associated with loss of control through drunkenness.

Alcohol is a major factor in sexual assault so we need to prioritise the protection of young women to ensure they are not putting themselves at risk by drinking to excess.

The 2011 General Lifestyle Survey report can be found on the Office for National Statistics website.

1 – Heavy drinking is defined as exceeding twice the government daily benchmarks on a single day: more than 8 units of alcohol on that day for men and consuming more than 6 units on that day for women.