A Demos report exploring recent downward trends in young people's drinking has attracted national media attention. Many headlines highlighted the role of social media as a distraction or a shaming disincentive from binge drinking, but a more complex set of influences are likely to be at play.
National figures have shown significant falls over the recent decade in young people's drinking, a key driver behind the fall in overall consumption figures. The proportion of young adults (those aged 16-24) who reported binge drinking in the last week fell from 29% in 2005 to 18% in 2013.
Demos, a think tank who has received funding from SabMiller towards a several alcohol projects in recent years, commissioned a survey to identify young people's attitudes and influences around alcohol.
The survey found:
- Almost one in five (19%) 16-24 year olds say that they do not drink
- Two-thirds (66%) said alcohol was either not very important or not at all important to their social life
- Only 3% of those who do drink said that alcohol was an essential part of socialising for them
- Four in ten (41%) of those who do drink thought that alcohol was less important to their social life than to their parents’, a bigger proportion than the three in ten (30%) who thought it more important.
Perhaps more significantly, the survey also asked young people aged 16-24 to identify factors they felt contributed to the decline in drinking amongst their peers. They cited:
- Awareness in the health consequences of drinking (66%)
- Young people being less able to afford alcohol compared to 10 years ago (55%)
- Compared to 10 years ago, alcohol being harder to get hold of for under 18s nowadays (47%)
- Negative media portrayals of anti-social behaviour linked to drinking (46%)
Largely absent from the media coverage, the influence of price and availability could be argued as far more significant than either the Demos report of press coverage highlights. Certainly academics highlight the significance of price and availability as important determinants, particularly when considering previous decades of rising consumption.
As well as the survey findings, Demos's 'Character and Moderation' report also outlines discussions from recent round table sessions and makes a series of recommendations to 'support the positive downward trends'. In particular the report focuses on 'programmes that develop character and life skills' as 'research increasingly shows these attributes are vital to future success'.
Certainly the recommendations of improving life-skills and character based approaches can be considered in line with the evidence base for early year intervention approaches to prevent later life drug and alcohol misuse. However other recommendations within the report, particularly those advocating the role of the alcohol industry, will not find favour with many public health roles, especially without recognition of the influence of price, availability or advertising.