Page last updated: January 11, 2018

More than one in ten 14-year-olds in the UK admit to binge drinking

Just under half of young people in the UK had tried alcohol by the time they were 14, with more than one in ten admitting to binge drinking, new findings from the Millennium Cohort Study have revealed.

Researchers at the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, part of the UCL Institute of Education, examined data collected as part of the Millennium Cohort Study from more than eleven thousand 14 year olds about their experiences of a range of different risky activities, including drinking, smoking and drug-taking.

Study participants, were born at the turn of the century, had previously been asked about drinking and smoking when they were 11. This latest survey revealed big increases in the rates of both binge drinking (having five or more drinks at a time on at least one occasion) and smoking among the group. Rates of binge drinking increased from 1% at age 11 to almost 11% at age 14.3% of survey participants had tried a cigarette at age 11, but this increased to 17% by age 14 and around 6% of 14-year-olds had taken drugs, mostly in the form of cannabis.

By the age of 14, around 50% UK teenagers had experimented with alcohol, smoking or drugs in some way. Boys tended to have first tried alcohol at a younger age than girls: 1 in 5 boys had drunk alcohol by age 11, compared to 1 in 7 girls. Generally, risk-taking activities of all types were more common among teenage boys than teenage girls, and were less common among teens from ethnic minority groups. Risky activities were much less common among teenagers in Northern Ireland, where rates were considerably lower, particularly for drinking, smoking and drug-taking.

14-year-olds who had reached or been through puberty, and also those who identified as being gay or bisexual, were more likely to drink, smoke and/or take drugs. Teens were also at greater risk of taking up these activities if they were from a single parent family or had parents who drank frequently or took drugs. The report found that parents’ education neither increased nor decreased the odds of their teenage children smoking and/or drinking. AIM SOCIAL AND POLICY NEWS More than one in ten 14-year-olds in the UK admit to binge drinking Professor Emla Fitzsimons, one of the authors of the research and director of the Millennium Cohort Study, said: “There is clear evidence that substance use increases sharply between ages 11 and 14, and that experimentation before age 12 can lead to more habitual use by age 14. This suggests that targeting awareness and support to children at primary school should be a priority. Our analysis also highlights the groups most vulnerable to being drawn into substance use who may benefit from additional support.”

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