Young People Are Drinking Less. Why?


Question: Is the glass half-empty or half-full?

Answer: For 27% of teenagers, the glass is neither. It's completely empty. And still in the cupboard.

This curveball answer to the age-old question comes as a result of a surprising trend indicated by the Office for National Statistics (ONS): young people are drinking less alcohol.

There is a distinct downward trend in teenage drinking habits. The most recent statistics, the data of which was last collected in 2013 by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), include:

  • An 11% decrease in young Brits bingeing once a week (29% to 18%)
  • A slight increase, to 27%, of teetotalers in the age group
  • And a two-thirds fall in 'frequent' drinking by young adults.

This poses a key question: why?

One of the central factors identified by many commentators is a rising proportion of religiosity within the national youth demographic. Just over 7% of young people in the UK are Muslims or Sikhs, religions which largely forbid alcohol consumption.

Professor Ian Gilmore, of the Alcohol Health Alliance, places much emphasis on this factor. He told the BBC: "Whilst the average level of consumption has fallen, this may be in part due to the change in the ethnic make-up of the country with many people abstaining from drinking altogether.� Indeed, there is a geographical correlation between low levels of problem drinking and high immigration levels. For example, a third of Londoners are teetotal, whilst only 17% of people in the North East - which has only a small immigrant population - abstain from drink. But the unavoidable reality is that this factor can surely by definition only account for 7% of young Britain's teetotalers: what about the other 20%, and those who only drink infrequently?

A prominent factor most relevant to students is economic: a fortune spent on vodka, beer and club entry does not sit well, for example, with £9,000 in annual tuition fees. One student told the Huff Post UK: "before starting university I thought I'd be going on nights out a few times every week," but in reality, "many students only go out for special occasions such as Halloween, Christmas and birthdays as they simply cannot afford to go out more."

In fact, coffee is increasingly proving to be a viable alternative to alcohol, with some university bars across the country closing for lack of business as a result of students' preference to visit coffee houses.

Thirdly, there is the factor of traumatising bad previous experiences. From hangovers to stomach-pumps, alcohol is capable of wreaking havoc on one's body, and just like with many drugs, especially Ecstasy, a teenager might suffer such a life-threatening effect in one instance that they vow never to touch the stuff again.

A sub-point to this idea is the trauma of other people's bad experiences. One eighteen-year old who spoke to the Huff Post UK told us: "my sister got drunk one night and nearly passed out on some train tracks. Since that happened, I decided not to drink at all and always stay in control."

Another suggested factor involves change, both technological and cultural. In 2005 - the year to which the ONS's statistics have been mostly compared - the iPhone had not yet been invented, Facebook had not been launched, and the Xbox 360 had only just been released. Drinking levels were higher amongst young adults in this year than in the years since. Coincidence? Mark Easton, the BBC Home Editor, thinks not. "Young people spend more time at home using social media," he claims, "and less time down the pub or hanging around the bus shelter with their mates."

Groups such as drinkaware are also ostensibly having greater influence over attitudes towards alcohol. drinkaware's annual report for 2013, for example, cites a 40% growth in visits to their website to 6 million people in that year. In addition, television adverts like the one shown at the top of this page play a prominent role, given teenagers' impressively frequent TV viewing.

Another reason could be the 'rise in civility' charted by Boris Johnson. According to the London Mayor, the youth of today are "nicer, kinder and more well-balanced" than their parents were.

Just a thought.

Before You Go