Are young people in Europe going off booze?

The WHO recently issued warnings over the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption. It’s estimated that three million people died in 2016 from alcohol abuse, and Europe has the highest levels of consumption in the world. The organisation says that 10.1% of all deaths in the region were connected to alcohol. However, a newly released report has shown that levels of drinking in teenagers has sharply declined in the last decade, with the most dramatic reductions being seen in the UK.

The figures, which could be the sign of a cultural shift in behaviours, show that in 2002, 50% of teenage boys in the UK drank alcohol on a weekly basis. In 2014, this was down to around 10%. In teenage girls in the UK, the report shows similar results. In 2002, 43% of girls consumed alcohol every week, which dropped to around 9%. The UK was previously one of the worst in Europe for teenage drinking, and is now seventh lowest. Iceland currently has the lowest rate of teenage drinkers.

These results have been welcomed by the health organisation; however, they say that the levels of teenage drinking are still “dangerously high”. Jo Inchley, who led the report, said: “Overall reductions in harmful drinking have been greatest in countries that traditionally have had higher prevalence, such as Great Britain” She continued: “This makes it clear that change is possible; however, more should be done to ensure that adolescents are effectively protected from the harms caused by alcohol.”

Overall in Europe, 28% of teenagers reported that they started drinking before the age of 13. Even though this figure might sound high, it’s actually down from 46% in 2002. In Iceland, which reported the lowest rates, only 3% of boys and 2% of girls said that they drank on a regular basis. Others in the region, like Sweden and Finland, also had low results, with both countries being in the bottom five for rates of regular teenage drinking.

It’s been suggested that rather than being down to policies, these numbers are down to a total generational shift in attitude and behaviour. Karen Tyrell, executive director of external affairs at UK charity Addaction said that this is a welcomed change in in the way young people see alcohol. She went on to explain how the use of social media could be playing a part in this change.

“In the age of Instagram the idea of losing control is often not an appealing one to a group of kids whose every success and misstep can be shared in seconds”, she said, adding: “Alcohol has never been cheaper or more available. The alcohol industry continues to target young people directly. The credit goes to young people themselves, not to the adults or policy makers.”

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