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.

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 2016, over two-fifths (44%) aged 11-15 in England had drunk alcohol at least once (46% of girls and 43% of boys).2

The proportion of pupils who have ever had an alcoholic drink was found to increase with age from 15% of 11 year olds to 73% 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 had an alcoholic drink – the lowest rate since the survey began in 1990.4

Have drunk alcohol in the last week?

England

In 2016, one in ten (10%) pupils aged 11-15 in England had drunk alcohol in the last week; however, this cannot be compared to previous years because there was a change in the survey question. Three-fifths (62%) 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 6 units (median); equivalent to around two and half pints of ABV 4% beer - this was the same for both girls and boys.6 18% of pupils who drank in the last week had consumed 15 or more units of alcohol.7

In 2016, almost half (45%) 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, 63% of boys and 67% of girls said that they had done so deliberately.8

While 2016 data cannot be compared to previous years (due to a change in questionnaire wording), we can look at the trend over the last decade until 2014 (the year before the questionnaire changed). As displayed in Figure 1, there has been a gradual decline in the proportion of 15-year-old pupils who consumed alcohol in the last week, from 48% in 2000 to 18% in 2014.9

Scotland

In 2015, 4% of 13-year-old pupils and 17% of 15 year olds in Scotland reported drinking in the seven days prior to completing the survey.10

Less than half of 13-year-olds (45%) and around two-thirds of 15-year-olds (68%) who had ever had alcohol, had been drunk at least once. Since 2002, there has been a small decline in the proportion of pupils who have ever been drunk, however there has been little change since 2013.11  

Northern Ireland

In 2016, one in three (33%) 11-16 year olds in Northern Ireland reported ever having had an alcoholic drink, continuing a downward trend since 2000. 6.4% of 11-16 year olds reported having had an alcoholic drink in the last week.12

16 year olds were significantly more likely to have ever had an alcoholic drink (63%) than 11 year olds (9%).13

Since 2000, the proportion of young people who drink alcohol and report having ever been drunk has declined from approximately 60% in 2000 to 45% in 2016.14

What are young peoples’ attitudes to alcohol?

In 2016, half (50%) of pupils aged 11-15 in England thought it was ‘ok’ for someone of their age to try drinking alcohol, compared to 67% in 2003. Pupils had less favourable attitudes to getting drunk, with 19% in 2016 saying that it was ‘ok’ to try getting drunk to see what it was like, compared to 31% in 2003.15 Trying alcohol (50%) was considered more acceptable than trying smoking (24%)16 or cannabis (11%).17

Pupils in England were most likely to remember lessons on drug use (61%), and less likely to recall lessons on smoking (60%) or alcohol (58%).18

In 2015 in Scotland, 40% of 13-year-old pupils thought it was 'ok' for someone their age to try drinking alcohol, compared to nearly three-quarters (73%) of 15 year olds.19 While there was a small decline in the acceptability of drinking among 15-year-old pupils in Scotland between 2013 and 2015, acceptability among 13 year olds has remained unchanged.20

How do underage drinkers get alcohol?

In 2016, 38% of pupils aged 11-15 in England said that they had obtained alcohol in the last four weeks. This has fluctuated over the last decade with 49% obtaining alcohol in 2004 and 28% obtaining alcohol in 2014.21

The most common ways of obtaining alcohol were through parents (22%) and friends (17%), followed by taking it from home with permission (13%), or asking someone else to buy it (11%).22

In 2016, 39% of 11-15-year-old English pupils who drank alcohol said they bought it. 22% of those who drank alcohol bought it from friends or relatives, 16% from someone else, 10% from an off-licence, and 8% from a shop or supermarket.23

Of pupils in Scotland who had ever had an alcoholic drink in 2015, 13 year olds were most likely to get alcohol at home (35%), whereas 15 year olds were most likely to get alcohol from a friend (39%).24

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. 79% of pupils who did not live with anyone who drank alcohol had never drunk alcohol themselves, compared with 31% of pupils who lived with three or more drinkers.25

There was a strong relationship between pupils’ drinking behaviour and their perception of their parents’ attitudes to their drinking. Of pupils who had never drunk alcohol, three-quarters (75%) said that their parents would not like them to drink. 86% 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.26

Pupils were most likely to think that people of their age drink to look cool in front of their friends (74%), to be more sociable with friends (63%), because it gives them a rush (63%), or because their friends pressure them into it (61%).27

Drinking contexts

In 2016, pupils aged 11-15 in England who drank alcohol were most likely to do so in their own home (62%), someone else's home (41%), at parties with friends (43%), or somewhere outside (13%).28 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%) in 1996, to four in five in 2016 (80%), among current drinkers. The proportion of pupils drinking at parties has also increased (23% in 1996 to 43% in 2016), whilst the proportion of pupils drinking outside has decreased (21% in 1999 to 13% in 2016), again, among current drinkers.29

In 2016, pupils who drank were most likely to do so with their parents (59%), friends of both sexes (48%), brothers, sisters or other relatives (37%) or friends of the same sex (36%).30 In 2016 younger pupils (11-12 years) were most likely to drink with family members (70%), older pupils (15 year olds) were most likely to drink with friends (78%).31

In Scotland in 2015, the most common drinking location for 13-year olds who had ever had an alcoholic drink was in their own home (53%), followed by someone else’s home (26%), at parties with friends (22%), and out in the street (21%).32

For 15 year olds in Scotland who had ever had an alcoholic drink, the most common drinking location was at parties with friends (48%), followed by their own home (43%), and someone else’s home (41%).33

 

Last reviewed: 06/02/2019

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 a2014. [Online]. Available at: https://files.digital.nhs.uk/publicationimport/pub19xxx/pub19244/what-about-youth-eng-2014-rep.pdf. [Accessed 2 January 2019].

2 NHS Digital. (2017). Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England - 2016: chapter 6 – drinking prevalence tables. Table 6.1. [Online]. Available at: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/smoking-drinking-and-drug-use-among-young-people-in-england/2016. [Accessed 2 January 2019].

3 Ibid. Table 6.2.

4 The Scottish Government. (2016). Scottish schools adolescent lifestyle and substance user survey (SALSUS) 2015: alcohol report. [Online]. Available at: https://www.gov.scot/publications/scottish-schools-adolescent-lifestyle-substance-use-survey-salsus-alcohol-report/. [Accessed 2 January 2019].

5 NHS Digital. (2017). Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England - 2016: chapter 6 - drinking prevalence tables. Table 6.5. [Online]. Available at: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/smoking-drinking-and-drug-use-among-young-people-in-england/2016. [Accessed 2 January 2019].

6 Ibid. Table 6.13.

7 Ibid. Table 6.14.

8 NHS Digital. (2017). Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England - 2016: chapter 7 - Young drinkers tables. Tables 7.14 and 7.15. Available at: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/smoking-drinking-and-drug-use-among-young-people-in-england/2016. [Accessed 2 January 2019].

9 NHS Digital. (2017). Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England - 2016: chapter 6 - drinking prevalence tables. Table 6.5. [Online]. Available at: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/smoking-drinking-and-drug-use-among-young-people-in-england/2016. [Accessed 2 January 2019].

10 The Scottish Government. (2016). Scottish schools adolescent lifestyle and substance user survey (SALSUS) 2015: alcohol report. [Online]. Available at: https://www.gov.scot/publications/scottish-schools-adolescent-lifestyle-substance-use-survey-salsus-alcohol-report/. [Accessed 2 January 2019].

11 Ibid

12 Department of Health, Northern Ireland. (2017). Young persons behaviour & attitudes survey 2016. [Online]. Available at: https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/health/bulletin-16-ypbas.pdf. [Accessed 4 January 2019].

13 Ibid

14 Ibid

15 NHS Digital. (2017). Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England – 2016: chapter 8 – drinking context tables. Table 8.9. [Online] Available at: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/smoking-drinking-and-drug-use-among-young-people-in-england/2016. [Accessed 2 January 2019].

16 NHS Digital. (2017). Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England – 2016: chapter 4 – smoking context tables. Table 4.10. [Online] Available at: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/smoking-drinking-and-drug-use-among-young-people-in-england/2016. [Accessed 2 January 2019].

17 NHS Digital. (2017). Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England – 2016: chapter 11 – drug use context tables. Table 11.10. [Online] Available at: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/smoking-drinking-and-drug-use-among-young-people-in-england/2016. [Accessed 2 January 2019].

18 Ibid

19 The Scottish Government. (2016). Scottish schools adolescent lifestyle and substance user survey (SALSUS) 2015: alcohol report. [Online]. Available at: https://www.gov.scot/publications/scottish-schools-adolescent-lifestyle-substance-use-survey-salsus-alcohol-report/. [Accessed 2 January 2019].

20 Ibid

21 NHS Digital. (2017). Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England - 2016: chapter 7 – young drinkers tables. Table 7.1. [Online] Available at:  https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/smoking-drinking-and-drug-use-among-young-people-in-england/2016. [Accessed 2 January 2019].

22 Ibid

23 NHS Digital. (2017). Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England – 2016: chapter 7 – young drinkers tables. Table 7.5. [Online] Available at:  https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/smoking-drinking-and-drug-use-among-young-people-in-england/2016. [Accessed 2 January 2019].

24 The Scottish Government. (2016). Scottish schools adolescent lifestyle and substance user survey (SALSUS) 2015: alcohol report. [Online]. Available at: https://www.gov.scot/publications/scottish-schools-adolescent-lifestyle-substance-use-survey-salsus-2015-six/. [Accessed 2 January 2019].

25 NHS Digital. (2017). Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England - 2016: report.  [Online] Available at: https://files.digital.nhs.uk/47/829A59/sdd-2016-rep-cor-new.pdf. [Accessed 2 January 2019].

26 NHS Digital. (2017). Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England – 2016: chapter 8 – drinking context tables. Table 8.4. [Online] Available at: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/smoking-drinking-and-drug-use-among-young-people-in-england/2016. [Accessed 2 January 2019].

27 NHS Digital. (2017). Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England - 2016: report.  [Online] Available at: https://files.digital.nhs.uk/47/829A59/sdd-2016-rep-cor-new.pdf. [Accessed 2 January 2019].

28 NHS Digital. (2017). Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England – 2016: chapter 7 – young drinkers tables. Table 7.9. [Online] Available at: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/smoking-drinking-and-drug-use-among-young-people-in-england/2016. [Accessed 2 January 2019].

29 Ibid. Table 7.8.

30 Ibid. Table 7.11.

31 Ibid. Table 7.12.

32 The Scottish Government. (2016). Scottish schools adolescent lifestyle and substance user survey (SALSUS) 2015: alcohol report. [Online]. Available at: https://www.gov.scot/publications/scottish-schools-adolescent-lifestyle-substance-use-survey-salsus-2015-six/. [Accessed 2 January 2019].

33 Ibid

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