Research from Sheffield Hallam University suggests that many young people who are not in employment, education or training (NEET) are drinking less than they were ten years ago.
The study found that most young people in this group are drinking little or no alcohol, supporting the general trend seen more widely in the UK and beyond where levels of drinking among young people are declining.
This joint study by Arc Research and Consultancy Ltd, Sheffield Hallam University and Doncaster Metropolitan Council, and funded by Alcohol Change UK, aimed to replicate a study undertaken ten years ago to identify changes in the transitions of young people described as NEET, in terms of starting, stopping, moderating or increasing their alcohol consumption.
Key findings from the study show:
• Many young people described as NEET are drinking little or no alcohol and drinking plays no part in their lives
• Experimental drinking starts at a young age and can include risky and harmful behaviour but has been grown out of by the age of 17
• Park and street drinking is mostly confined to those in their early teens. When those in their later teens do drink it is at home or with those they trust at friends’ houses
When compared with the original study, the findings also show that drinking among young women had reduced significantly.
Peter Nelson, principal lecturer in the University’s Department of Social Work Social Care and Community Studies, and co-author of the report said: “Our report shows that young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) are less likely to turn to alcohol now than ten years ago. Many young people in this category drink little or no alcohol, and it in fact plays no part in their lives.
“The stereotype of older teenagers drinking in parks or on street corners is not reflected in our research, which found that young people had grown out of drunken behaviour by the age of around 17, having started experimenting with drink in their early teens. Late teens are much more likely to drink at home or at a trusted friend’s house.”
Dr Sharon Tabberer, Arc Research and Consultancy Ltd and co-author of the report, said: “We went back to Doncaster where we conducted research ten years ago with young people who were not in education, employment or training. Those young people were drinking, engaging in risky behaviour and ‘messing about’ in large groups in parks. We wanted to see if similar young people in 2018 were drinking less.
“We found that young people are drinking less. The young people we talked to were drinking little or no alcohol. Drinking plays little or no part in their lives. Whilst experimental drinking started young, they had ‘grown up’ by the age of 17 and drinking, in particular drunken behaviour and losing control, was seen as ‘stupid’. Likewise, park and street drinking was for the early teens.
“As young people mature into their later teens they retreat to the home, with any drinking that does occur being with close family or friends.”
Dr Richard Piper, chief executive of Alcohol Change UK, said: “This is a small study but the findings are encouraging – suggesting that young people’s drinking is continuing to fall in different contexts. The findings also suggest that as young people in this group grow older drinking in a family setting becomes more prominent. This gives parents a great opportunity to reflect on their own drinking habits and support their children in their choice not to drink or to drink very little.
“The report also highlights that some young people in this study were found to be drinking at harmful levels following previous adverse life experiences. It’s important that young people at risk of alcohol harm are not ignored and that specialist support is available to meet their specific needs.”
For the majority of those interviewed, not drinking or drinking very small amounts was now the norm. The reasons for this included:
• Seeing the impact of excessive drinking on others, whether in reality or on social media, put them off drinking and drunken behaviour
• Having parents or family members who drank heavily and seeing the impact of that drinking behaviour on the individual or family
• Fear of becoming ill from drink and of the longer-term impact of drinking on their own health
• Drinking in an out of control manner to become drunk was seen as something for the early or mid-teens, and by 17 or 18 the behaviour was looked down on in others and avoided in themselves
• Wanting to be in control of their own behaviour