3 Nov 2014

Why one in four young people never drinks alcohol

A new poll for Channel 4 News reveals why young people are drinking less, how one in four would rather be online than in the pub – and why their grandparents drink twice as often as them.

We knew young people had cut back on drinking. But an exclusive ComRes poll for Channel 4 News shows the extent of this national trend, with one in four 16 to 30-year-olds opting out of drinking alcohol altogether.

When asked what stops them drinking, 26 per cent of the under 30s polled said they didn’t want it to affect their judgement and a further 43 per cent said they didn’t drink because of health and fitness concerns. It is also considered “embarrassing” to get really drunk, according to 40 per cent of those polled.

Natalia, 17, told us: “I respect myself too much to let anything like alcohol control me,” – a statement that few people would attribute to the young adults of our country, but one that a significant number now agree with.

One in four of the under 30s polled also said that they would prefer to stay in and chat to people on the internet, than go out drinking.

Why does my Granny have more fun than me? Full report on Channel 4 News at 7pm

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Baby boomer boozing

Those looking for drunkenness and debauchery might be better off seeking out this age group’s parents and grandparents. The over 60s have the money and the freedom to go on a bender or a gap year, and they’re not afraid to make the most of it.

ComRes interviewed 1,119 British people among these two age groups, to compare the number of days of drinking per week, attitudes towards alcohol, factors preventing people from drinking and perceptions towards alcohol.

I got really quite intoxicated, and people started taking pictures of me, and I didn’t mind until they started putting them on Facebook Alicia, 16

The former baby boomers polled tend to drink nearly twice as often as the under 30s: an average of 2.68 days of the previous week, compared with an average of 1.36 days for their younger counterparts.

The older generation are also far more likely to drink every day, with 15 per cent admitting to doing so over the previous week, compared to just one per cent of 16 to 30-year-olds.

Much of this is down to drinking with an evening meal, and the majority of over 60s polled said it was embarrassing when someone their age got really drunk.

But national trends show the gap in drinking habits has grown in recent years, according to Department of Health figures, with younger people consuming less than previous years and the over 60s drinking more. Alcohol-related hospital admissions for the over 60s are also at their highest level since records began in 2011.

Who are Britain's biggest boozers? Take our quiz to find out

‘Embarrassing’ drunks

For Britain’s youth, it has also become less socially acceptable to binge drink to the point of no return.

Of the 16 to 30-year-olds polled, 40 per cent said it was embarrassing when someone their age gets really drunk, and nearly half said that vomiting as a result of heavy drinking is never acceptable.

Some of those interviewed by Channel 4 News weren’t too impressed by the behaviour of their grandparents’ and parents’ generation. “Adults don’t realise how much they’re drinking,” said Aysha, 17, while Maria said her granddad had whiskey every day with lunch and dinner.

This younger generation, on the other hand, feel they don’t have the luxury of letting go. Competition for jobs, the rising cost of living and escalating student debt have all meant that rebellion is taking a back seat.

“A lot of us are scared we won’t make it. A lot of us are scared about jobs because everything running out, everything’s getting tighter,” Aysha added.

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Social media

Being tagged in drunk photos posted online was also a deterrent for 13 per cent of under 30s polled. People like Alicia, 16, who has cut back after a bad experience:

“I got really quite intoxicated, and people started taking pictures of me,” she said, “and I didn’t mind until they started putting them on Facebook and social media and things. It was just impossible to get rid of.

“Once you’ve got that mark against your name, you can’t really get rid of it.”

Religious beliefs

Religious beliefs have more of an impact on the habits of the under 30s, than the over 60s, according to the ComRes poll, which was carried out in September 2014: 10 per cent of young people said their own religious beliefs were a factor in preventing them from drinking, compared to just 2 per cent of over 60s.

Changing demographics is likely to have played a big role here, and those from a Muslim background are less likely to drink alcohol.

But even aside from their own beliefs, 3 per cent said the religious beliefs of friends and four per cent said the religious beliefs of family prevented them from drinking – not a huge amount, but a lot when compared to 0 per cent of over 60s.