Following yesterday’s claim by Alcohol Concern that under 13s in the UK have some of the highest rates of drunkenness, the Alcohol Education Trust has said drinking among our youth is actually falling.
The Trust pointed to the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD), which has shown that drinking and drunkenness among under 18s in the UK has consistently fallen over the last seven years.
Helena Conibear, director of the Alcohol Education Trust said: “We are encouraging secondary schools across the country to become involved in Alcohol Awareness week run by Alcohol Concern, but it is important for the public and teachers to know that teenagers across the UK are drinking less often and bingeing or getting drunk less often than for years.
“For the first time we can say a majority of 11-15 year olds haven’t even tried alcohol (55%) and underage drinking has fallen to 13% of 11-15 year olds drinking weekly – falling from 26% in 2001.”
Conibear’s figures come from the NHS The Information Centre’s Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England.
Conibear added: “It’s about time we started championing the increasingly responsible way that our young people are behaving in the UK. There is still much work to be done, but it’s important to recognise that trends are heading in the right direction: alcohol admissions for under 18’s to hospital are at a seven-year low.
“A report by the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (November 2012) states that the number of under-18s being treated for substance misuse in England has fallen each year from 2008/09 to 2011/12. The report states: ‘The drop in numbers seems to represent a genuine fall in demand, reflecting falling drug use among the general population of young people’. For alcohol treatment numbers fell from 7,054 in the previous year to 5,884.”
Chief executive of the Wine and Spirits Trade Association, Miles Beale, agreed that while more can still be done it is important to recognise that improvements are being made. Beale said: “Alcohol misuse is a serious and complex problem for a small number of people in this country – our members recognise this and are committed to tackling this problem.
“However, it is important to recognise that more young people are now abstaining from alcohol.”
Conibear acknowledged the work that has been done by the community at large and the drinks industry to cut down on underage drinking.
She told the drinks business: “There is no doubt that it is much harder to buy alcohol if you are under 18 in the on- or off-trade than it was five or 10 years ago. Schemes such as Challenge 25, Pubwatch and Best Bar None have ensured staff are well trained and challenge anyone for their ID as the norm.
“There has also been a tremendous amount of investment and good work done by healthy school teams and drug and alcohol teams at community level that have helped raise awareness of alcohol misuse among consumers. For adults, there is no doubt that the profile of Drinkaware among consumers ensures that anyone wishing to cut down or monitor their drinking, knows where to go.”
Alcohol Concern also called for the introduction of minimum alcohol unit pricing, but Beale echoed previous sentiments that there should be an objective debate on minimum pricing. Beale said: “Proposals for a minimum unit price on alcohol will unfairly punish millions of consumers and businesses in the UK, while doing nothing to tackle the root causes of alcohol misuse.