By separately interviewing young people and their parents we are able not only to investigate the drinking habits of young people but also to show how these relate to the attitudes, behaviours and consumption of their parents.
Young people and alcohol
43% of young people aged 10-17 say they have had an alcoholic drink. This is in line with other surveys, for example HSCIC’s Smoking, Drinking, Drugs report(1) shows that 38% of 11-15 year-olds have had a drink.
Age of drinkers
As expected, age is a major factor in whether young people have had a drink.
- 25% of 10-13 year olds say they have had a drink, compared to 68% of 16-17 year olds
Drinking remains a relatively uncommon event for most young people.
- Among those who have had a drink, 45% drink no more than twice a year
- However, 19% drink at least once a week
Among those young people who have had a drink, the average age of first drink was 13.3; the average age of first being drunk was 13.9
Who is encouraging them to drink?
- One in three (32%) of young people say they have felt encouraged to drink by others
- Just under one in five (18%) have felt encouraged to drink by a friend their own age or younger
- While around one in eight (12%) were encouraged by an older friend
- Seven per cent say they have been encouraged to drink by a parent or another adult relative
Why do young people drink?
The key motivations behind drinking among 10-17 year-olds are social:
- Two thirds (65%) say they drink to improve parties or social gatherings at least some of the time
- A similar proportion (63%) drink for enhancement reasons - because it is fun, because they like the feeling or want to get a ‘buzz’
- However, almost three in five (57%) drink for conformity reasons and around two in five (44%) drink to cope with negative feelings at least some of the time
Exposure to harm was measured using the CRAFFT score, a tool developed to screen young people for significant problems associated with alcohol or other substances. A score of 2 or more indicates potentially harmful behaviour
- Almost one in twelve (8%) of all respondents scored above this threshold, with 92% not exposed to significant harm
- Among those who drink, just over 1 in 6 (18%) scored 2 or more
When asked about specific alcohol harm
- 25% of those young people who drink said that in the last 12 months they had experienced one or more harmful consequences as a result of drinking
- One in eight (12%) had experienced three or more consequences.
- The most common harmful experience was vomiting (19%)
- One in nine (11%) say they have done something which put them in a risky situation at least once
- Around 1 in 10 have missed a day of work, school or college (11%), lost a valued possession (10%), been made to look bad on social media (10%), or had a fight (10%) in the last 12 months as a result of drinking alcohol
- Small but significant proportions of those who have had an alcoholic drink say they have engaged in sexual activity (10% of those aged 13 and over have done this), been in trouble with the police (seven per cent), been a victim of crime (six per cent) or been taken to hospital (six per cent) as a result of drinking in the last 12 months
- Overall, 12% have experienced a serious harm (trouble with the police, being a victim of crime, been taken to hospital or gotten into a fight)
What shapes young people's drinking
Young people’s motivations for drinking and their mental wellbeing play a role:
- 40% of those who drink for coping reasons drink at least once a week – more than twice the average (18%)
- 25% of those with low mental wellbeing drink at least once a week – vs 10% of those with high mental wellbeing
- There’s a strong link between believing that drinking gives you confidence to meet friends and getting drunk
- Drinking for coping reasons is linked to getting drunk
Parents influence their children's drinking
There is a clear link between young people's drinking, drunkenness and harmful drinking and their parental attitudes and whether or not they supervise their child's drinking.
- 15% of those with parents who think 13 or younger is an acceptable age for a first drink say they have felt encouraged to drink by their mum or dad, compared to just two per cent whose parents say 16 or older is the youngest acceptable age to drink alcohol
- 75% of those whose parents think 13 is an acceptable age to drink have had a drink; only 32% of those whose parents thing 16/17 is an acceptable age
1. Parental drinking was measured in two ways:
- Weekly unit consumption, giving categories of lower-risk, increasing risk and higher risk
- And AUDIT, giving categories of Low risk (Zone 1), Hazardous (Zone 2), Harmful (Zone 3) and Dependent (Zone 4)
- 34% of children of lower-risk parents have had a drink; 62% of high risk drinkers
- 35% of children of AUDIT Zone 1 parents have had a drink; 61% of children of AUDIT Zone 3 or 4 parents
- Parents who drink above guidelines or who score highly on AUDIT are more likely to think it’s OK for kids to drink at 13
2. Parental supervision matters:
- 62% who had first alcoholic drink unsupervised have been drunk, vs 25% who were supervised
- Unsupervised drinkers are more likely to experience harms (39% vs 8% of those who have never drunk unsupervised).
- Unsupervised drinkers are more likely to say drinking gives them confidence to meet new friends
3. Young people do seek support:
- 27% of young people have not spoken to their parents about alcohol.
- Seeking info on alcohol is more likely among those who have drunk alcohol, those who drink unsupervised and those who have been drunk
- Also more likely among those who are drinking harmfully, and those with poor mental wellbeing.
Overall, underage drinking is declining. However there remains a group of young people (19% of those who drink) who drink at least once a week. 12% of 10-17 year-olds who drink have suffered a serious harm as a result (hospitalisation, being in a fight, trouble with the police or being a victim of crime).
There are a range of factors associated with underage drinking, and with harm from underage drinking. These include: parental acceptance of underage drinking; drinking to cope; low mental wellbeing; drinking to feel confident meeting new people; drinking unsupervised; and parental drinking patterns.
Between 17th November and 10th December 2014, Ipsos MORI surveyed a representative sample of UK residents, including:
- 2,294 adults aged 18-75
- 527 parents; for this study, ‘parents’ were defined as adults aged 25-80 who were a parent or guardian of at least one young person aged between 10-17
- 754 young people aged between 10-17.
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 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.
Drinkaware invites researchers to access the Drinkaware Monitor data for independent analysis. For more information, please contact Director of Evidence and Impact, Dr John Larsen: firstname.lastname@example.org
(1) Hscic.gov.uk,. 'School Pupil Survey: Smoking, Drinking And Drug Use At Decade Low - Health & Social Care Information Centre'. N.p., 2015. Web. 22 July 2015.