Youthful non-drinking – alive and well but socially invisible

Recent survey data, exploring young people’s attitudes towards alcohol (pdf 146kb), challenges the assumption that drinking is an integral part of growing up.

Published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the report states that it is commonplace for young people to choose not to drink or drink lightly, and that doing so is a positive choice.

Researchers invited 52 people aged between 16 and 25 who drink little or no alcohol to express their opinions on how their choices and patterns of consumption affect their lives and to examine the discrepancy between this and the wider social perceptions of young people’s relationship with alcohol.

They found that respondents did not believe that getting drunk was an automatic rite of passage, that not drinking was just as likely to be a personal choice rather than a moral one and that the immediate effects of drinking – such as having a hangover – were of greater concern to them than the longer-term health effects.

Messages about alcohol from school, education and the media were felt by some young people to reinforce stereotypes and norms around drinking behaviour. Young people were angered by the lack of support for their choice and wanted their personal preferences to be respected and recognised as being valid.

Non-drinkers were particularly frustrated at the negative portrayals of young people as heavy binge drinkers in the media and wanted their preference for not drinking to be respected as a legitimate option.

One of the report’s authors, Mariana Bayley, observed in the JRF blog that the ease with which the respondents were chosen for the survey was in line with data from the 2010 General Lifestyle Survey, which suggests that 52% of young men and 54% of young women aged between 16 and 25 years had not drunk alcohol in the previous week.