UK kids are giving up alcohol faster than any other European country

Alcohol consumption amongst British boys and girls has fallen considerably since 2002, when the region had the highest in Europe. 

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) has published a report into “Adolescent alcohol-related behaviours” in Europe between 2002-2014. The report presents the “latest trends in alcohol consumption and drinking behaviours among 15-year-olds” across the WHO European Region, and found that the largest declines in prevalence of alcohol consumption among boys and girls have taken place in the United Kingdom.

Declines in weekly alcohol consumption in teens were visible across all subregions, but the Ireland/Great Britain subregion showed the greatest decrease since 2002, when it had the highest levels in Europe: “from 34 per cent to 8 per cent among girls and 42 per cent to 11 per cent among boys”.

The report found that young people use alcohol “to fulfil social and personal needs, enhance contact with peers and initiate new relationships”. Across Europe, the report states, regular drinking among girls and boys has halved since 2002, but it is still “almost double the global average”.

Accordingly to the WHO, excessive drinking during adolescence is “implicated in serious problems such as fatal and non-fatal injuries, suicide attempts, unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, academic failure and violence”. Alcohol is one of the four “leading risk factors” for premature mortality globally. Public Health England has found that where young people are misusing alcohol, 78 per cent had experienced parental alcohol abuse or domestic abuse.

One of the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals is to “strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including … harmful use of alcohol,” and men and women living in the UK are now advised by the NHS not to drink more than 14 units a week (about six pints of beer, or 10 glasses of wine) a week. The price of alcohol has increased by 36 per cent since 2005, but overall it is 60 per cent more affordable than it was in 1980. Scotland introduced minimal alcohol pricing in May 2018 to try and curb harmful drinking, and the Welsh devolved government has announced plans to do the same. England has yet to follow suit, despite calls from the British Medical Association and other health bodies to do so.

The NHS published a report in 2015 that found that 38 per cent of 11-15 year olds had tried alcohol at least once, compared to 62 per cent in 1988. However, one in three British teenagers is overweight or obese, and around 90,000 11-15 year olds are estimated to be regular smokers.

Augusta Riddy is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman.