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Regular drinking falls amongst young adults

40% rise in teetotal behaviour between 2005 and 2013

Adrian O'Dowd

Friday, 13 February 2015

The number of young adults abstaining from alcohol has risen sharply over the past decade but there are concerns that binge drinking is still a significant problem in other age groups.

New figures published today by the Office for National Statistics show that the proportion of young adults (aged 16 to 24) who reported that they do not drink alcohol at all increased by more than a third between 2005 and 2013 from 19% to 27%.

Amongst all adults, more than one in five (21%) said that they did not drink alcohol at all, which increased slightly from 19% in 2005.

Binge drinking amongst young adults fell from 29% in 2005 to 18% in 2013 and in the 25-44 age group, it fell from 25% to 19% over the same period.

In contrast, when young adults did drink, they still remained the most likely group to have binged on alcohol as the statistics showed 4 in 10 young adults who drank alcohol in the week before interview exceeded 8 units for men and 6 units for women on at least one day.

The proportion of adults who binged at least once in the week before interview decreased from 18% in 2005 to 15% in 2013.

Across the UK, London was the region with the highest rate of adults claiming to not drink alcohol at all – 32%.

Nevertheless, problems over alcohol consumption were still significant, according to the Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA).

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the AHA and special advisor on alcohol to the Royal College of Physicians, said: “Whilst younger people may be drinking less on average, this is most likely due to the fact that there are more abstainers rather than a change in the overall drinking culture in this country.

“Self-reported consumption data is unreliable, people massively under-report how much they drink and more tellingly, sales data does not match self-reported consumption data. Binge drinking remains a huge problem and alcohol-related deaths are significantly higher than 20 years ago.

“Alcohol is the biggest single killer in under-60s in the UK and around the world. People are dying younger from causes directly linked to alcohol. We have a serious problem in this country and this will not go away unless we have targeted policies from government, developed independently of an alcohol industry with vested interests and loyalties to shareholders.”

Jackie Ballard, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: “I welcome the increase in the numbers of young people who are teetotal and able to resist peer and drinks industry pressure.

“Likewise the decrease in binge drinking is welcome, but we must not fool ourselves into thinking that this means alcohol harm has gone away. More than half of those who drink do so at risky levels and middle-aged and older drinkers are regularly drinking above recommended limits.”

“It’s this regular drinking of a bit too much too often that stores up all sorts of health problems and explains the 8,400 deaths a year directly related to alcohol.”

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