Health

Binge-drinking continues to fall in young adults

  • 13 February 2015
  • From the section Health
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Man drinking beer Image copyright PA
Image caption Long-term binge-drinking can increase the risk of strokes, cancer and high blood pressure

Binge-drinking among young adults in Britain is continuing to fall, figures from the Office for National Statistics show.

The proportion of this group bingeing at least once a week is now down from 29% in 2005 to 18% in 2013.

It is thought that fewer adults are choosing to drink alcohol and also drinking less when they do.

More than a fifth of UK adults now say they do not drink alcohol at all - a slight increase on 2005.

Men drinking more than eight units of alcohol on their heaviest drinking day in one week are considered to have binged.

For women, binge-drinking equates to drinking more than six units of alcohol in one day.

Two units of alcohol is roughly equivalent to one pint of normal strength lager or one medium-sized (175ml) glass of wine.

Teetotal trend

Binge-drinking among all UK adults fell from 18% in 2005 to 15% in 2013, but it was in the age groups 16-24 and 25-44 that the most noticeable falls were seen.

Among these groups, binge-drinking fell by one-third and frequent drinking by more than two-thirds since 2005.

Increasing numbers of young adults aged 16-24 are now teetotal.

In London, almost one-third of all adults said they did not drink alcohol - higher than any other region of Great Britain.

But drinkers in the north of England and in Scotland were most likely to have binged.

About a third of drinkers in these regions had binged, compared with less than a quarter of those in other parts of Britain.

Image copyright Science Photo Library

Analysis

By Mark Easton, BBC Home Editor

The binge-drinking yob, for so long media shorthand for Britain's youth, is becoming more unrepresentative of the young generation with every year that passes.

So what's going on?

Partly it is cultural. Young people spend more time at home using social media or doing their homework and less time down the pub or hanging around the bus shelter with their mates.

Alcohol is just not that fashionable any more. Indeed, consumption of tobacco and illegal drugs is also down.

Having a clear head can be cool.

Public health campaigners will argue that the figures demonstrate the success of sensible drinking campaigns and police believe better management of the night-time economy is an important factor.

Changing attitudes to alcohol are also driven by diversity.

A little over 7% of young people currently describe themselves as Muslims or Sikhs, religions which largely forbid alcohol consumption.

Indeed, areas with higher levels of immigration tend to have lower levels of problem drinking.

A third of people in diverse London are teetotal, a quarter in the East Midlands. In the south-west of England, it's 15% and in the North East it's 17%.


Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption More than one in 20 adults in Britain now say they stick to soft drinks

Health risk

It is estimated that alcohol misuse costs the NHS in England about £3.5bn every year. Alcohol is still a major cause of ill-health throughout the UK.

Drinking too much can contribute to a number of serious health conditions, including cancer, liver disease and heart disease. Long-term binge-drinking is linked with an increased risk of strokes, cancer and high blood pressure.

Deaths from alcohol, however, are now at their lowest rate since 2000 in the UK.

In Scotland, which had the highest alcohol-related death rate in 2013, the figure is significantly lower than 10 years ago - from 45 per 100,000 to 29 per 100,000.

Prof Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK said the results were encouraging but there was "absolutely no room for complacency".

"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.

"Data on alcohol consumption is also unreliable; many people under-report how much they drink."

Culture change

He said alcohol remained the biggest single cause of death in the under-60s in the UK.

"The overall numbers of alcohol-related deaths may be down but the numbers are still far higher than they were 20 years ago. Without effective action from government on pricing, marketing and availability, we are storing up major problems for the future."

The Portman Group, the responsibility body for drinks producers in the UK, said: "These positive trends are part of a decade-long culture change around our improving relationship with alcohol in this country.

"But alcohol-related harms still remain and some local areas suffer much more than others.

"The best way to support these communities is to get local businesses, police, local authorities and health services working together to improve town centres, tackle harmful drinking and make our High Streets safer places to enjoy."

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