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Drinking to belong? Why young people drink

A new report released yesterday examines the relationship of young people with alcohol and identifies the factors behind their drinking habits. It highlights the influence of the way they go drinking with friends and how pricing plays a significant role in how much young people drink.

The research was carried out for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation by a team from Glasgow Centre for Population Health, who looked at the experiences of eighty 18-25 year-olds.

The research shows that:

  • For most young adults drinking to get drunk was seen as the default choice for socialising with peers. Few could imagine realistic alternatives to alcohol consumption for getting young people together.
  • The price of alcohol does play a role in the amount of alcohol young people consume and also the way in which it is consumed.

The research also highlights issues for policy makers to consider in order to have an impact on excessive alcohol consumption.

  • Moderate drinking in the family environment provides a potentially more balanced, alternative view of drinking behaviour, in contrast to the excessive consumption promoted commercially, and which specifically targets young adults.
  • The way alcohol is sold to young people needs to be looked at carefully, as young adults moderate their behaviour when subject to informal pressures of drinking among more mixed age groups, as opposed to drinking in bars aimed at young people.
  • Young people saw heavy drinking as a phase that would end when they reached adulthood. For young people who took longer to have adult responsibilities such as employment and parenting, the move away from excessive drinking was delayed.

Report author Peter Seaman said:

With the increasing consumption of alcohol in the UK in recent decades, getting drunk together has become an established part of the experience of young adulthood. Alcohol has found a unique role in the way friendship groups are forged and maintained, partly because of the special nature of young adulthood; the absence of other group bonding opportunities; and the success of alcohol markets in filling that void. Working with young people to offer alternatives may help address this, rather than just imposing constraints.”

Joseph Rowntree Foundation Policy and Research Manager, Claire Turner, said:

We know there is considerable interest in the drinking patterns of young people, and a desire to encourage safer use of alcohol. Having a good understanding of the drinking behaviour of today’s young adults is vital to reducing future levels of alcohol-related harm. This research can help policy makers understand the reasons why young people drink, and highlights issues needing consideration if they wish to make an impact on excessive alcohol consumption.



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