Alcohol and young people


Young people are particularly vulnerable to alcohol and the harm it causes, because they are still developing both physically and emotionally.

The Impact of Alcohol Consumption on Young People report (2009) tells us that, compared to peers who start drinking later, young people who start drinking at an early age are:

  • likely to drink more and more frequently
  • more likely to go on to develop problems with alcohol in adolescence and into adulthood
  • more likely to suffer from chronic diseases and conditions associated with excess alcohol consumption in adults and deaths (for example liver disease)

Delaying the age at which a young person takes their first alcoholic drink and limiting the amount they drink are likely to be beneficial to their health and wellbeing. However, the UK Chief Medical Officer for England guidance is clear that young people under the age of 15 should not drink alcohol at all and that parents have a significant role in informing and influencing responsible drinking behaviours in adolescence and adulthood.

Key inequalities and risk factors

Understanding the reasons why children and young people drink will help determine effective interventions and support.  A number of risk factors are associated with alcohol misuse by children and young people which include:

  • genetic predisposition
  • physical and sexual abuse in childhood which may lead to drinking behaviour
  • drinking from a young age
  • family members drinking behaviour or history of alcohol problems
  • early behaviour problems in children which may place them at especially high risk of alcohol problems
  • poor self-esteem and sensation-seeking or impulsive personality types may have a tendency to drink in large quantities

It is recommended that data on the percentage of alcohol-related hospitals admissions from local Acute Trusts should be available to enable monitoring of the growing trend in this age group.

Data is currently not available in relation to alcohol-related violent crime in young people. This could support local education and prevention initiatives.

Facts, figures and trends

The 2014 survey on smoking, drinking and drug use by young people in England (NHS Digital  accessed 4 January 2017) comprehensively explores the prevalence, frequency, risk factors, consequences, social and environmental factors which enable, motivate or mitigate drinking in young people:

  • 8% of pupils reported drinking alcohol in the last week
  • the majority of pupils who drank in the last week did so on one day only
  • whether a pupil had drunk alcohol was related to their age, increasing from 8% of 11 year olds to 69% of 15 year olds
  • boys and girls were equally likely to report that they had had at least one alcoholic drink in their lifetimes
  • the average (mean) consumption by pupils who drank in the last week was 9.8 units although consumption varied widely; 22% of pupils who drank in the last week consumed at least 15 units

This is similar to survey results in 2012 which showed that 10% of pupils reported drinking alcohol in the last week. More than half (60%) of pupils drank more than four units on average on the days they had drunk alcohol in the last week. Again there was little variation between boys and girls.

For young people surveyed who had drunk alcohol in the previous week, beer, lager and cider continue to be the most popular alcoholic drinks in England.  There has been a decline in popularity of alcopops (the green area in the diagram below), but increased preference for spirits. Spirits, alcopops, and wine and/or sherry are more popular amongst girls.

Percentage of pupils who drank in the last week, England 2004-2013

The 2014 Survey report states that energy drinks contain high quantities of sugar and caffeine, and are a legally available stimulant that is popular with many young people. Six percent (6%) of pupils said that they sometimes or always drank energy drinks at the same time as they drank alcohol.

According to the What about YOUth 2014 survey report (2015, accessed 4 January 2017), most young people reported that they had their first alcoholic drink between the ages of 13 and 15 and 10% of young people had their first alcoholic drink under the age of 12.  There was an association between age of first drinking and frequency of drinking. Among those who had first had a drink at less than 10 years, 28 per cent were regular drinkers, while among those who had their first drink at age 15 or 16, 3 per cent were regular drinkers.

The myth of “empty calories”

A number of young people are pre-occupied with weight and there is a misconception that weight gain is not influenced by drinking alcohol because it contains “empty calories”.

Calories from alcohol are called ’empty calories’ because they have no nutritional value.  Alcohol is, in fact, high in sugar and contains lots of calories – seven calories a gram which is almost as many as pure fat.

Alcohol myths, misconceptions and additional information and advice can be found on the Health Portal.

Consequences of alcohol consumption on children and young people

Although young people reported increased feelings of confidence in social situations, the HSCIC 2014 report (NHS Digital, accessed 4 January 2017) sets out potentially adverse consequences of alcohol consumption for adolescents and young people including physical or mental health problems, impaired brain development, risk of alcohol-related accident or injury. More broadly it is also associated with missing or falling behind at school, violent and antisocial behaviour, and unsafe sexual behaviour.

Hospital admissions for alcohol-specific conditions

Excessive alcohol consumption in the under 18s is an avoidable cause of hospital admissions. Alcohol consumption is a contributing factor to hospital admissions and deaths from a diverse range of conditions. Alcohol misuse is estimated to cost the NHS about £3.5 billion per year and society as a whole £21 billion annually.

For the period 2013/14 to 2015/16, the rate of hospital admissions per 100,000 population for young people aged under 18 for alcohol specific causes is 13.2 per 100,000 in Bracknell Forest was better than the national rate (37.4 per 100,000) and the south east regional rate (36.5 per 100,000):

Hospital admissions due to alcohol specific conditions, all persons aged 0-17 per 100,000 population 2009/10 to 2015/16

Nationally, females under 18 are more likely than males to be admitted to hospital with an alcohol-specific cause. For the period 2013/14 to 2015/16 a rate of 29.4 per 100,000 males were admitted to hospital compared to 45.8 per 100,000 females.

Under 18 admissions to hospital for alcohol-specific conditions in Bracknell Forest is consistently lower than the national average for males and females, indeed, and numbers were so small over the period 2013/14 – 15/16, that numbers are supressed to avoid disclosure.

Bracknell Forest 2013 survey of children and young people

The 2013 survey (accessed 23 May 2016) shows a correlation between age and alcohol consumption:

Years 9 to 11, weighted by school year and gender

In terms of frequency, the majority of students in years 9 to 11 stated that they mostly drink only a few times per year, although 9% indicated they drank at least once a week:

Years 9 to 11, weighted by school year and gender

Data by gender is not available from the 2013 schools survey, although the What about YOUth 2014 survey report (2015, accessed 4 January 2017)  reports that girls were more likely than boys to report having had an alcoholic drink (65% and 60% respectively) and to report having been drunk in the last four weeks (27% of girls and 19% of boys among those who had ever had an alcoholic drink). However, 6 per cent of girls were regular drinkers compared with 7 per cent of boys.

Local young people indicated that factors influencing alcohol consumption include:

  • 57% to socialise with friends and have fun
  • 15% to get drunk
  • 14% to feel more confident
  • 9% to cope with stress
  • 40% other

They also stated that sources of alcohol include:

  • 50% from parents
  • 31% from friends or family members
  • 9% from someone they asked to buy it for them
  • 6% from home (with their parents’ knowledge)
  • 2% bought from a supermarket
  • 2% bought from an off license

More than one response was possible for these questions so percentages add up to more than 100%. It is also important to note that due to the small survey sample size, results may not be an accurate reflection of the true frequency and reasons for consuming alcohol across young people in Bracknell Forest.

Prevention, care and support

Specialist drug and alcohol services are available in the borough from the Bracknell Forest drug and alcohol team (DAAT)which provides Parenting early intervention programmes, advice and information for young people, support for friends and families affected by alcohol misuse and  screening and referral services.

Free, friendly and confidential online support  and information on anything drugs and alcohol realted is also available from the SMART website.

SMART, starting my activity recovery today

Support for children of alcoholics

NACOA – The National Association For Children Of Alcoholics
ADFAM – Supporting families affected by drugs and alcohol
Al-Anon – For families and friends of alcoholics

Want to know more?

The Government’s Alcohol Strategy (2012) – outlines national commitments and approaches to change drinking behaviours (e.g. binge drinking and “pre-loading”) and local licensing powers to address negative impact on individuals’ health and wellbeing and society.  The government is currently reviewing its alcohol related policies and service commissioners should consider these in service commissioning.

UK Chief Medical Officer Guidance (2009) – makes several recommendations:

  1. No alcohol before 15 years of age – “an alcohol free childhood”
  2. For young people aged 15 to 17 alcohol consumption should be:
    • infrequent, no more than one day a week and never more that they NHS adult daily limits
    • always with the guidance of a parent or carer or in a supervised environment
  3. Parental influence on children’s alcohol use is important and should be:
    • communicated to parents, carers and professionals
    • supported with information and advice on how to respond to alcohol use and misuse by children
  4. Support services should be made available for children and young people who have alcohol-related problems and their parents

Alcohol-use disorders: prevention (NICE, 2010) – one of three pieces of NICE guidance addressing alcohol-related problems among people aged 10 years and older. (See also: alcohol-use disorders in adults and young people: clinical management (CG100); and alcohol dependence and harmful use: diagnosis and management in young people and adults (CG115)). The focus is on supporting vulnerable children and young people who drink, including understanding some of the complex reasons why they drink and to encourage them to include their parents or guardians in any professional intervention.

Bracknell Forest 2013 Survey of Children and Young people (Children’s Society, 2014) –  A survey of children and young people in years 5 to 13 (aged 8 to 18) in Bracknell Forest to identify the aspects of life where they are doing well, and those where they are not doing so well, in order to identify potential local priorities for improving well-being.

Drink Aware – alcohol related advice, information and support for people and professionals.

Local alcohol profiles for Bracknell Forest  – provide information for local government, health organisations, commissioners and other agencies to monitor the impact of alcohol on local communities, and to monitor the services and initiatives that have been put in place to prevent and reduce the harmful impact of alcohol.

Specialist drug and alcohol services – Information on the services of the Bracknell Forest drug and Alcohol Team.

Smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England in 2014 (NHS Digital, 2014) – a suite of surveys covering numerous aspects of smoking, drinking and drug use among young people in England, in particular, prevalence, behaviours, types of alcohol and drugs taken, how often, access to substances, pupil attitudes and predictors of smoking, drinking and drug taking among secondary school age children. Different surveys also focus on different aspects.

Supporting public health; children, young people and families (PHE, updated 2016) – guidance to support local authorities and providers in the commissioning and delivery of services across the highest impact health and wellbeing outcomes for children and young people through the 0 to 19 healthy child programme.

What about YOUth survey (2014) –  within the context of 15 year olds, the survey explores a range of issues from general health, through emotional health and wellbeing, physical activity, food and nutrition, alcohol, drugs, and smoking.

Young people’s alcohol, drug and tobacco use: JSNA support pack (Public Health England) – Key data for planning effective young people’s specialist substance misuse interventions in 2016 to 17 including alcohol and Good practice prompts for planning comprehensive interventions in 2016 to 17.

This page was created on 19 March 2014 and updated on 21 July 2017.  Next review date May 2018.

Cite this page:

Bracknell Forest Council. (2017). JSNA – Alcohol and young people. Available at: (Accessed: dd Mmmm yyyy)

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