Steep decline in youth drinking in UK, says new report

Youth drinking in the UK has declined sharply, says a new report. Over the past fifteen years, there has been a sharp decline in youth drinking across all age groups. Not only are young people less likely to drink, but they are also doing so later and less often. Additionally, young people are consuming smaller amounts than fifteen years ago.

The University of Sheffield’s Alcohol Research Group published the report. It is part of a new project the Wellcome Trust is funding. The project aims to examine and explain why youth drinking is declining in the UK.

The Wellcome Trust is a biomedical research charity with headquarters in London, UK. Pharmaceutical magnate, Sir Henry Wellcome, established the charity in 1936 to fund research to improve human and animal health.

Researchers analyzed data from the 1988-2016 Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use among Young People in England surveys. They also looked at the 2001-2016 Health Surveys for England.

Both surveys are nationally representative of young people in England. They cover respondents from the age of eight to twenty-four years.

Youth Drinking in Decline
The report’s title is:’Youth Drinking in Decline.’

Youth drinking – decline in all age groups

The report shows that 61% of 11-to-15-year-olds had previously consumed an alcoholic drink in 2002. The percentage declined to forty-four percent by 2016.



Among 8-to-12-year-olds, the figure over the same period dropped from 25% to just 4%.

In 2001, eighty-eight percent of 16-17-year-olds said they had consumed an alcoholic drink during the previous twelve months. In 2016, the figure had dropped to 65%.

Ninety percent of 16-to-24-year-olds reported drinking alcohol over the previous twelve months. In 2016, the percentage had declined to 78%.

Youth drinking starting later

Young people who do drink are beginning to consume alcohol up to a year later.

The average age in which 16-17-year olds had their first drink rose from 13.7 to 14.8 years. Among 11-15-year-olds, the age increased to 12.3 from 11.6 years.

Youth drinking – happening less often

The researchers also found that young people were drinking less often and in smaller amounts.

Seventy-six percent of 16-to-24-year olds reported having consumed an alcoholic drink in the last week in 2002. By 2016, the figure had dropped to 60%. Among 11-to-15-year-olds, the percentage fell from 35% to 19%.

Thirty percent of 16-17-year-olds exceeded binge drinking thresholds in 2002, compared to 6% in 2016.

Lead author, Dr. Melissa Oldham, from the University of Sheffield’s Alcohol Research Group, said:

“It may be that increases in internet use and online gaming are changing the way young people spend their leisure time.”

“Economic factors may also play a role, as concern about increasing university tuition fees and the cost of housing means young people feel they have less disposable income to spend on alcohol.”



Youth drinking - explanations for the decline
Regarding the possible explanations for the decline in youth drinking listed above, the authors of the report wrote: ” Identifying which of these factors are playing a role is a key research priority.”

Youth drinking, smoking, and illicit drug use

Not only has youth drinking declined, but also illicit drug use and smoking among 11-15-year-olds.

In 2016, 17% of people smoked, compared to 38% in 2002. Seventeen percent of people smoked cannabis in 2002 compared to eleven percent in 2016.

Regarding these changes, Dr. John Holmes said:

“These changes matter for public health today as young people suffer injuries, poor mental health, and road traffic accidents when intoxicated.”

“If this generation also drinks less in later adulthood, we may see big reductions in 20 or 30 years in the diseases caused by alcohol.”



Dr. Holmes leads the University of Sheffield’s study of the decline in youth drinking.

The University of Sheffield says the following regarding the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group:

“The Sheffield Alcohol Research Group is based at the University of Sheffield’s School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR).”

“Formed in 1992, ScHARR is one of the largest and most dynamic schools of health research within the UK. The School tackles some of the world’s biggest health challenges to improve the health and care of people in the UK and around the world.”

An international team of researchers reported earlier this year that raising alcohol taxes is cost-effective in reducing alcohol-related harms.