Consumption: Underage Drinking in the UK

Here you’ll find data on drinking in the UK including who drinks, what they drink, how often and what is the cost? 

Data for the UK underage population is presented below, with UK adult drinking data presented here.

If you are looking for Local Authority (LA) level data, you may be interested in the What about YOUth 2014 (WAY 2014) survey.  This survey asked 15 year olds in schools across England about different health behaviours including alcohol consumption.1 You can find Local Authority (LA) level data via Public Health England's data visualisation tool.

How many young people drink underage?

In 2014, around two-fifths (38%) aged 11-15 in England had drunk alcohol at least once. Boys and girls were equally likely to have done so. This continues the downward trend since 2003, when 61% of pupils had drunk alcohol, and is the lowest since the survey began in 1988.2

The proportion of pupils who have ever had an alcoholic drink increased with age from 8% of 11 year olds to 69% of 15 year olds.3

In 2015, 28% of 13 year old pupils and 66% of 15 year old pupils in Scotland reported ever having ever had an alcohol drink – the lowest rate since the survey began in 1990.4

Have drunk alcohol in the last week?

England

In 2014, one in twelve (8%) pupils aged 11-15 in England had drunk alcohol in the last week, compared to one in four (25%) in 2003. Two-thirds (63%) of those who drank in the last week had consumed alcohol only on one day in that week.5

On average, English pupils who said they drank alcohol in the last week consumed 5.5 units (median); equivalent to just over 2 pints of 4% beer. This was the same for both girls and boys. 22% of pupils who drank in the last week had consumed 15 or more units of alcohol.6

In 2014, almost half (49%) of pupils who had consumed alcohol in the last four weeks said that they had been drunk at least once during that time. Of those who said they had been drunk in the last four weeks, 71% of boys and 57% of girls said that they had done so deliberately.7
Scotland
In 2015, 4% of 13 year olds pupils and 17% of 15 year olds in Scotland reported drinking in the 7 days prior to completing the survey.8

In Scotland, 45% of 13 year old pupils who had ever had alcohol said that they had been drunk at least once.9 68% of 15 year old pupils in Scotland who had ever had alcohol said that they had been drunk at least once.10 Compared to 2013, the only significant change was found among 15 year old boys who had ever consumed alcohol as a smaller proportion of these reported that they had been drunk (68% in 2013 compared to 65% in 2015).11

What are young peoples’ attitudes to alcohol?

In 2014, about half (48%) of pupils aged 11-15 in England thought it was OK for someone of their age to try drinking alcohol, and about a quarter (26%) thought that it was OK to try smoking.12 Pupils were much less likely to approve of drug use: 9% thought it was OK for someone to try cannabis.13

Pupils in England were most likely to remember lessons on drug use (59%), and less likely to recall lessons on smoking (55%) or alcohol (53%).14

In 2015 in Scotland, 40% of 13 year old pupils thought it was 'ok' for someone their age to try drinking alcohol.15 While there has been an overall decrease in the acceptability of drinking among 13 year old pupils in Scotland since 2006, there was no significant decrease between 2013 and 2015.16

How do underage drinkers get alcohol?

In 2014, 28% of pupils aged 11-15 in England said that they had obtained alcohol in the last week. The most common ways of obtaining alcohol were to be given it by parents (17%), given it by friends (15%), to take it from home with permission (11%), or to ask someone else to buy it (9%).17

In 2014, 40% of 11-15 year old English pupils who drank alcohol said they bought it. Of these, 55% bought it from friends or relatives, 29% from someone else, 29% from an off-licence, and 27% from a shop or supermarket.18

Of pupils in Scotland who had ever had an alcoholic drink in 2015, 35% of 13 year olds were most likely to get alcohol at home.19 Of 15 year old pupils in Scotland who had ever had an alcoholic drink39% were most likely to get alcohol from a friend.20

What and who may influence young people to drink?

Pupils aged 11-15 in England are more likely to drink if they live with other people who drink alcohol. 86% of pupils who did not live with anyone who drank alcohol had never drunk alcohol themselves, compared with 40% of pupils who lived with three or more drinkers.21

There was a strong relationship between pupils’ drinking behaviour and their parents’ attitudes to their drinking. 77% of pupils who had never drunk alcohol said that their parents would not like them drinking. 84% of pupils who had drunk in the last week said that their parents did not mind them drinking as long as they didn't drink too much.22

Pupils were most likely to think that people of their age drink to look cool in front of their friends (79%), to be more sociable with friends (67%), because it gives them a rush (66%), or because their friends pressure them into it (64%).23

Drinking contexts

In 2014, pupils aged 11-15 in England who drank alcohol were most likely to do so in their own home (56%) , someone else's home (43%), at parties with friends (46%), or somewhere outside (13%).24 Since 1996, there has been an increase in the proportions of pupils who usually drink at home or in other people's homes from just over half (52%) to nearly three quarters (74%). The proportion drinking at parties has also increased, whilst the proportion of pupils drinking outside has decreased.25
In 2014, pupils who drank were most likely to do so with their parents (56%), friends of both sexes (52%), brothers, sisters or other relatives (37%) or friends of the same sex (35%). This is a change from recent years where pupils were more likely to say they drank with friends of both sexes than with their parents. In 2014 younger pupils (11-12 years) were most likely to drink with family members, older pupils (15 year olds) were most likely to drink with friends.26

In Scotland in 2015, the most common drinking location for 13 year olds was in their own home: 53% of those who reported having ever had an drink said that they ususally drank at home.27 The next most common locations were drinking at someone else’s home (26%) and at parties with friends (22%).28

For 15 year olds in Scotland who had ever had an alcoholic drink, the most common drinking location was at parties with friends (48%).29 The next most common locations were drinking at their own home (43%) and drinking at someone else's home (41%).30

References

1 Health and Social Care Information Centre. (2015). Health and Wellbeing of 15 year olds in England: Findings from the What about YOUth? Survey 2014. [Online]. Available from http://www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB19244/what-about-youth-eng-2014-rep.PDF [Accessed 3 February 2016]

2 Fuller, E. (2015). Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England in 2014. [Online] Available from http://www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB17879 [Accessed 12 August 2015]

3 Fuller, E. (2015). Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England in 2014. [Online] Available from http://www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB17879 [Accessed 12 August 2015]

4 The Scottish Government (2016) Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance User Survey (SALSUS) 2015: Alcohol Report. [Online]. Available here: http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0050/00508470.pdf [Accessed 16 December 2016].

5 ibid.

6 ibid.

7 ibid.

8 The Scottish Government (2016) Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance User Survey (SALSUS) 2015: Alcohol Report. [Online]. Available here: http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0050/00508470.pdf [Accessed 16 December 2016].

9  ibid

10 ibid

11 ibid

12 Fuller, E (2015) op cit

13 Fuller, E (2015) op cit

14 Fuller, E (2015) op cit

15 The Scottish Government (2016) Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance User Survey (SALSUS) 2015: Alcohol Report. [Online]. Available here: http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0050/00508470.pdf [Accessed 16 December 2016].

16 ibid.

17 Fuller, E. (2015). Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England in 2014. [Online] Available from http://www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB17879 [Accessed 12 August 2015]

18 ibid

19 The Scottish Government (2016) Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance User Survey (SALSUS) 2015: Alcohol Report. [Online]. Available here: http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0050/00508470.pdf [Accessed 16 December 2016].

20 ibid

21 Fuller, E. (2015). Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England in 2014. [Online] Available from http://www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB17879 [Accessed 12 August 2015]

22 Fuller, E. (2015). Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England in 2014. [Online] Available from http://www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB17879 [Accessed 12 August 2015]

23 ibid

24 Fuller, E (2015) op cit

25 Fuller, E (2015) op cit

26 ibid

27 The Scottish Government (2016) Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance User Survey (SALSUS) 2015: Alcohol Report. [Online]. Available here: http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0050/00508470.pdf [Accessed 16 December 2016].

28 The Scottish Government (2016) Scottish Schools Adolescent Lifestyle and Substance User Survey (SALSUS) 2015: Alcohol Report. [Online]. Available here: http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0050/00508470.pdf [Accessed 16 December 2016].

29 ibid.

30 ibid.