New research from alcohol education charity Drinkaware finds young people may be drinking alcohol to cope

Date Published

12th April 2016




The Drinkaware Monitor, an Ipsos MORI survey of young people and their parents’ drinking attitudes and behaviours*, finds that more than four in ten (44%) 10-17 year olds who have ever had an alcoholic drink, do so (at least some of the time) to help cheer themselves up when in a bad mood, feel less nervous or depressed, or forget about their problems**. Two fifths (40%) of young people who drink for these reasons drink at least once a week, which is more than twice the national average (19%) for their age*.

There has been an encouraging downward trend in underage drinking in the UK in recent years with the number of 11-15 year olds who have drunk a whole alcoholic drink at least once dropping to 38% in 2014 from 61% in 2003***.

Despite this, The Drinkaware Monitor shows that more than half (53%) of young people who report low mental wellbeing have ever had an alcoholic drink, compared with 36% of those who report high mental wellbeing****.

Elaine Hindal, Chief Executive of alcohol education charity Drinkaware says: “Our research shows that some young people are drinking to cope with emotional problems including anxiety or depression, feelings which can be more difficult to deal with during the holiday season.

“At this time of year, when alcohol is more prevalent young people may feel more pressure to drink. Many of us think our children hardly listen to a word we say, but we want to remind parents that they are actually the main source of information about alcohol for their children. It’s never too early to talk to your children about the risks of underage drinking which is why we are encouraging parents to have the ‘alcohol chat’ and to remind young people that they will not be alone if they choose not to drink.”

Lucie Russell, Director of Campaigns and Media at UK charity YoungMinds says: “This report shows that young people who are struggling may be more likely to drink alcohol than those who are feeling contented and happy. With the festive season approaching it is important that we acknowledge that for some young people this can be an emotionally difficult time of year. It can bring on feelings of isolation and loneliness as well as social pressure to conform, party and have a drink or two.

“It is important that children and young people who are struggling are supported by those around them, peers, parents and carers as well as professionals to navigate choices around alcohol and their wellbeing. Our helpline for parents who are worried about a child or young person is free to call and can offer advice and support for parents and carers.”

More information and advice on talking to your child about alcohol.

Parents worried about a child or young person can get free advice and support from YoungMinds or contact their helpline on 0808 802 5544. 

* Drinkaware Monitor 2014: Young people's and their parents' drinking behaviour and attitudes in the UK published July 2015.

Between 17th November and 10th December 2014, Ipsos MORI conducted a quota survey among a representative sample of UK residents, including:

  • 754 young people aged between 10 and 17.
  • 813 parents; ‘parents’, defined as adults aged 25-80 who were a parent or guardian of at least one young person aged between 10 and 17.

Among these, 323 individuals aged 10-17 had ever had an alcoholic drink (not just a sip).

The fieldwork was conducted through an online panel. The data were weighted by age, gender, region and social grade to reflect the UK population profile.

After completing a full survey on their own drinking habits, parents were asked four additional questions about their attitudes to young people and alcohol, and about the drinking habits of one child in their household.

Young people were surveyed with parental consent, but (as far as it is known) without parental participation. They were asked about their attitudes to, and experiences of alcohol, and about their sources of information on drinking.

The majority (70%) of young people were recruited through a parent who had already completed the adults’ survey and parents’ questions. This allows us to look at children’s drinking patterns in relation to their parents.

  • **These findings are based on responses to The Drinking Motive Questionnaire: Revised Short Form (DMQ-R SF), developed by Kuntsche and Kuntsche which provides 12 motivations for drinking alcohol in response to the question, “The following are reasons that people sometimes give for drinking alcohol. Thinking of all the times you drink, how often would you say that you drink for the following reasons?” with the following possible response codes, “Almost never/never”; “Some of the time”; “Half of the time”; “Most of the time”; “Almost always/always”. 143 individuals aged 10-17 drink alcohol (at least some of the time) for at least one of the following reasons: to forget about their problems, to cheer up when they are in a bad mood, or because it helps when they feel depressed or nervous.
  • *** HSCIC Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use Among Young People in England – 2014 report
  • **** The Short Warwick Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale was used to measure mental wellbeing among young people surveyed. There are 7 items on the SWEMWBS. Each of the 7 items carries a score between 1 and 7, giving individual participants an overall score between 7 and 35 with a lower score denoting poorer mental wellbeing. In the report, those scoring less than 21 were defined as having “low mental wellbeing” (208 individuals aged 10-17 fell into this category), those scoring 22-27 were defined as having “medium mental wellbeing” (248 individuals aged 10-17) and those scoring 28-35 were defined as having “high mental wellbeing” (298 individuals aged 10-17).

The Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale was funded by the Scottish Executive National Programme for improving mental health and well-being, commissioned by NHS Health Scotland, developed by the University of Warwick and the University of Edinburgh, and is jointly owned by NHS Health Scotland, the University of Warwick and the University of Edinburgh.