UK Underage Consumption
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 consumption1. You can find Local Authority (LA) level data via Public Health England's data visualisation tool.
How many young people drink underage?
In 2018, over two-fifths (44%) aged 11-15 in England had ever drunk alcohol (43% of girls and 43% of boys).2
Have drunk alcohol in the last week?
In 2018, one in ten (10%) pupils aged 11-15 in England had drunk alcohol in the last week—the same as 2016.5 Almost (57%) of those who drank in the last week had consumed alcohol only on one day in that week.
On average, English pupils who said they drank alcohol in the last week consumed 5.0 units (median); equivalent to around two and a half pints of ABV 4% beer—5.5 units for boys, 5.0 units for girls7. Approximately one-fifth (21%) of pupils who drank in the last week had consumed 15 or more units of alcohol.8
In 2018, of pupils who had consumed alcohol in the last four weeks, 43% 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, 64% of boys and 65% of girls said that they had done so deliberately.9
While data from 2016-2018 cannot be compared to previous years (due to a change in questionnaire wording), we can look at the trends 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 2014.10
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.11
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 2013.12
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 a drink in the last week.13
16 year olds were significantly more likely to have ever had an alcoholic drink (63%) than 11 year olds (9%).14
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 2016.15
What are young peoples’ attitudes to alcohol?
In 2018, half (52%) 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 21% in 2018 saying that it was ‘ok’ to try getting drunk to see what it was like, compared to 31% in 200316. Trying alcohol (52%) was considered more acceptable than trying smoking (24%)17 or cannabis (13%).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 olds19. 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 2018, 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 (15%), followed by taking it from home with permission (15%), or given it by other relatives (11%).22
In 2018, 39% of 11-15-year-old English pupils who drank alcohol said they bought it. 24% of those who drank alcohol bought it from friends or relatives, 16% from someone else, 10% from a shop or supermarket, and 8% from an off-licence.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. 85% of pupils who did not live with anyone who drank alcohol had never drunk alcohol themselves, compared with 33% 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. 83% 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%), because their friends pressure them into it (62%), to be more sociable with friends (61%), or because it gives them a buzz (60%).27
In 2018, pupils aged 11-15 in England who drank alcohol were most likely to do so in their own home (66%), someone else's home (41%), at parties with friends (40%), or somewhere outside (12%).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 2018 (82%), among current drinkers. The proportion of pupils drinking at parties has also increased (23% in 1996 to 40% in 2018), whilst the proportion of pupils drinking outside has decreased (21% in 1999 to 12% in 2018), again, among current drinkers.29
In 2018, pupils who drank were most likely to do so with their parents (66%), friends of both sexes (44%), brothers, sisters or other relatives (38%) or friends of the same sex (38%). In 2018 younger pupils (11-12 years) were most likely to drink with family members (81%), older pupils (15 year olds) were most likely to drink with friends (75%).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
 Ibid. Table 5.2.
 Ibid. Table 5.13.
 Ibid. Table 5.14.
 Ibid. Table 6.8.
 Ibid. Table 6.11.
 Ibid. Table 6.12.