When the authors present their findings about youth alcohol use trends to other researchers and the wider public, they often find that adults are surprised to hear that young people today consume less alcohol and stay alcohol-free longer. There are persisting misconceptions and beliefs in outdated stereotypes of young people as irresponsible and feckless that thwart the discourse about and awareness of falling alcohol use among adolescents around the world.
This article shares three reasons why adolescents are going increasingly alcohol-free. And the article discusses myths and realities about youth alcohol use and the alcohol-free trend.


Laura Fenton, Research Associate, Public Health, University of Sheffield, Amy Pennay Research Fellow, Centre for Alcohol Policy Research, La Trobe University, and John Holmes Professor of Alcohol Policy, Sheffield Alcohol Research Group, University of Sheffield


The Conversation
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Youth drinking is declining – myths about the trend, busted

Popular science article in The Conversation

Summary and key points

Alcohol consumption among younger generations has been declining for years. Starting in the United States in the late 1990s, and spreading to several other high-income countries in the early 2000s, young people began to consuming less alcohol compared to previous generations, or to avoid consuming alcohol altogether. 

The proportion of 16- to 24-year-olds who report consuming alcohol in the last week fell from 67% in 2002 to 37% in 2021.

This is a decline of 44% in the past decade.

The decline was even steeper for younger teens. 

Falling prevalence of youth alcohol use
In 2021, 37% of adolescents consumed alcohol in the past week, down from 67% in 2002.

Reasons for adolescents going increasingly alcohol-free

Growing risk awareness about alcohol

That youth go increasingly alcohol-free reflects a general trend in young people’s attitudes toward risk. From smoking to sex, young people – including those in early adolescence and in their early twenties – are generally more risk averse than previous generations

Access to and preference for safe spaces

Young people’s attitudes toward risk extends to their decisions about spaces where they choose to, or feel able to, spend time. While some public spaces have become less accessible for youth, evidence also shows that youth view socializing in such spaces with alcohol as unsafe and morally suspect.

Changing norms and attitudes about the role of alcohol

Another reason is the changing alcohol norm: recent research shows that alcohol use has become less routine and expected for young people. At the same time, going alcohol-free has become more socially acceptable.

A fourth reason is that in general adolescents’ attitudes toward alcohol have become more negative. At the same time, young people’s attitudes toward going alcohol-free have become positive and accepting.

Researchers argue that this stems from a longer, more protracted transition into young adulthood, as well as young people’s concerns about the future and feeling a strong sense of pressure to succeed in life, including economically.”

Laura Fenton, Amy Pennay, John Holmes

Most young people do not consider peer pressure an important factor in their decisions to consume alcohol or not, except for a small number of university students who resented how alcohol-centric social life at university is, according to interviews conducted by Fenton, Pennay, and Holmes.

Myths and realities about youth alcohol use and the alcohol-free trend

It is not correct to assume that adolescents engage in other harmful behavior, when they’re not consuming alcohol, such as smoking cigarettes or cannabis.

The opposite is true: youth smoking and cannabis use rates decreased at the same time as youth alcohol consumption rates fell.

There were some signs of increases in cannabis use among schoolchildren before the pandemic and smoking among young adults after the pandemic. But both of these – like the rise in teen vaping – occurred years after the decline in youth alcohol use was well-established. In other words, some groups of young people may be smoking cannabis or tobacco and vaping more, but they are unlikely to be doing so in place of using alcohol.”

Laura Fenton, Amy Pennay, John Holmes

There is little evidence that young people are replacing alcohol use with using more technology in.

The opposite is true: young people who use the internet the most also tend to consume the most alcohol.

Though at least one study has identified links between young people’s decisions not to consume and their health consciousness, the general trend is not about giving up alcohol, but about not really developing an alcohol consumption habit in the first place.

The decline in youth alcohol consumption is about teenagers deciding, actively or passively, not to take up alcohol consumption. 

Source Website: The Conversation