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This is very interesting. It’s easy to complain about moral standards collapsing and young people becoming more reckless and hedonistic. But is it true? Not according to Department of Health statistics.

drinks by foilman

Take this one factoid: “the proportion of 11- to 15-year-olds who drank alcohol in the week before they were polled fell from 26% in 2001 to 12% in 2011″. Early teens, in other words, are drinking far less than they did ten years ago.

Here is the article from Tracy McVeigh and Gemma O’Neill:

Young Britons, widely portrayed as binge-drinking hedonists, are turning into the new puritans, according to official figures and reports from student bars across the country.

Statistics showing a continuing decline in alcohol intake, especially among students, suggest they are increasingly rejecting the drinking and drug-taking culture of their parents’ generation and reversing the excesses of the late 1990s, said Professor Fiona Measham, a criminologist at Durham University, who has been studying drinking patterns for more than two decades.

Measham attacked health professionals for being unwilling to recognise the shifting patterns of behaviour, and for persisting with “shock tactics” designed to scare young people.

Department of Health statistics show a fall since 2001 in the numbers of under-16s in England who are drinking. The latest DoH report, Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use Among Young People in England, reveals that the proportion of 11- to 15-year-olds who drank alcohol in the week before they were polled fell from 26% in 2001 to 12% in 2011.

There has been a drop in the proportion of this age group who think drinking is acceptable for someone of their age. In 2010, 55% had never tasted alcohol (39% in 2001), while 32% thought it was acceptable for someone of their age to drink once a week, compared with 46% in 2003. Similarly, 11% of pupils thought that it was OK for someone of their age to get drunk once a week, compared with 20% who thought that in 2003.

Levels of binge-drinking among young people have also fallen sharply. In 2010, only 17% of 16-24-year-old women drank more than six units on their heaviest day of drinking, compared with 27% in 2005, and 24% of young men drank more than eight units, compared with 32% in 2005.

Measham puts this in plain language, without the raw statistics:

The trends are clear. From about 2002 onwards, the tide turned. I’ve seen it in my students and I’ve seen it when I do my research in pubs and clubs. Something is changing, a cultural shift, there is no longer the desire to go out and get completely obliterated. It’s true of drugs also – use peaked in 2002 and there has been a slow decline.

Each generation wants to be different from the one before. The 1990s saw the cafe bars and an end to pubs being male-dominated. The drinks industry targeted women who were caught up in the glamour of Sex and the City-style cosmopolitan drinking, and of ‘me time’ and drinking with the girls and there was a complete revolution in consumption patterns. But for this generation that’s all a bit passé and they are more responsible. Increasingly, it’s the older generation setting a bad example and teenagers are quite disparaging of that.

One of the trends I’m seeing is students spending more on one occasion, rather than going out all the time. When I’m out doing research in clubs, young people will be paying large amounts to get in, but you don’t see huge queues at the bar. Another factor is that the worst excesses of the drinks industry have been curtailed by legislation – the free drinks and happy hours and irresponsible promotion of drinking.

It’s partly to do with ID schemes, debt, and unemployment. But it’s also simply that students have discovered more interesting things to do than drink themselves silly. At Leeds University, Antony Haddley, union affairs officer, said:

Interestingly, although night-time drinking may be less popular, we have seen a significant interest in membership to our clubs and societies, so students participating in a massive range of activities with their friends from skydiving to equestrianism and everything in between. So students are not suddenly turning into recluses who don’t go out; they are still having a good time, without alcohol.

And, of course, it’s the effect of social media…

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