Booze stats confirm boring Britain is drying

Won't someone think of the children? They're bloody lightweights!


New figures on British drinking habits from the Office of National Statistics show teetotalism continues to rise, with our prudent youth leading the way in moderate alcohol consumption.

Don't expect to find that in the papers, though. With such a politicised subject, it's no surprise the ONS emphasises harm, and chooses to lead with a factoid designed to titillate Paul Dacre and the temperance movement. The headline stat is that "7.8 million people 'binged' on their heaviest drinking day".

But look a little closer and you'll find that headline-grabber isn't indicative of longer-term or broader trends.

Since 2005, the percentage of English over-16s who drink at least once a week has fallen from 65 per cent to 57 per cent. The proportion who drink on at least five days in the past week has fallen from 17 per cent to 10 per cent. Among young people the trend is even more pronounced: 16 to 24-year-old males having a drink once in the past week falls from 64 per cent to 48 per cent. It's the 65 and over number that has remained constant.

The five-times-a-week figure for 16 to 24-year-old males falls from 10 per cent in 2005 to 3 per cent in 2016. For females it's 5 to 2 per cent, and all over-16s 17 to 10 per cent.

In short, Britain is becoming less boozy, and more young people are becoming less boozy than any other age cohort.

The ONS sets quite a low bar for "binge" drinking. For women it's exceeding "six units on their heaviest drinking day (around three pints of normal strength beer or two large glasses of wine)". For men it's exceeding eight units. Bear in mind that a 5.2 per cent strength lager counts as 2.9 units. So three pints and you're a binger, according to the more-prudish-by-the-day UK government.

But even binge boozing is on the wane.

The proportion of 16 to 24-year-olds who exceeded eight/six units on their heaviest drinking night of the week fell from 29 to 18 per cent from 2005 to 2016 (males: 22 to 13, females: 41 to 27). The number who exceeded a more impressive 12 units on their "binge night" fell from 20 per cent to 13 per cent. Now just 12 per cent of 16 to 24-year-old males exceed 12 units once a week compared to 22 per cent in 2005, and 13 per cent of 16 to 24-year-old females.

If your news consumption was limited to the Daily Mail and the BBC, a mouthpiece for temperance groups, you would probably have the exact opposite impression.

Teetotalism has increased across all age groups, but has increased more among... you guessed it, young people. The percentage of 16 to 24-year-old males abstaining from alcohol rose from 17 per cent in 2005 to 24 per cent in 2016, and females 21 per cent to 28 per cent.

The ever-falling safety "limit"

In the 1960s, the authorities declared that a bottle of wine a day was a safe drinking threshold.

No, that is not a typo. Today, the official government guidelines state that five 250ml glasses of wine a week should be the upper limit for "safe" consumption. This isn't because wine has suddenly become more potent. French wine growers have not, to our knowledge, begun to produce super-concentrated wine, like skunk growers producing new and much powerful strains of cannabis every year. It's because puritanism has become our authorities' primary concern.

You can find the results here. The Excel spreadsheet has the nitty gritty. ®


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