A Glass Half Full?


We are used to media panics about alcohol and the social problems it causes. And indeed, very real problems remain for the UK’s relationship with drink.

But it is important to take stock of progress where it’s been made. The decline in young people drinking to excess could be an emerging success story for the UK. Original polling published by Demos today adds to the evidence that this generation of young people is more moderate in its drinking habits than the generation before it. Our nationally representative survey of 16-24 year olds found that:

  • > Almost one in five (19%) 16-24 year olds do not drink at all
  • > Two-thirds (66%) said alcohol was either not very important or not at all important to their social life
  • > Only 3% of those who do drink said that alcohol was an essential part of socialising for them
  • > Four in ten (41%) of those who do drink thought that alcohol was less important to their social life than to their parents’, a bigger proportion than the three in ten (30%) who thought it more important.

This fits with the declines in excessive drinking amongst young people shown over many years in the official statistics. ONS figures show that the number of 16-24 year olds who report binge drinking has declined by more than a third since 2005.

If a substantial cultural shift is underway it’s obviously important to understand why. Our survey tested some common theories behind the declines, and found that young people themselves most commonly cite an increased awareness in the health consequences of excessive drinking (66%). Being less able to afford alcohol, and alcohol being harder to obtain for under-18s were the next most commonly cited (55% and 47% respectively).

This sounds like good news for public health campaigns and education programmes in schools, and suggests that the work of Drinkaware and others may be hitting home with young people.

But of course there is much more work to be done.

Our short paper Character and Moderation makes a series of recommendations to build on these positive trends. The paper is based on two roundtables held earlier this year with both Conservative and Labour Parliamentarians and councillors. The recommendations focus on developing a comprehensive early intervention strategy for alcohol – in particular, developing the kinds of capabilities in young people and families that will ensure that future generations of Britons continue to drink more responsibly than the ones before it.