Spirits sector delighted to note underage drinking is on the decline across most of Europe

The new ESPAD study, released on Tuesday, confirmed that the efforts made by all stakeholders towards eliminating underage drinking are delivering tangible results.  Since the ESPAD surveys were originally launched, we have now reached the lowest ever observed percentage of EU students who reported alcohol consumption in the last 30 days with a decline of 24% since 2003 (from 67% to 51% between 2003 and 2015).  Another important indicator is the level of intoxication: 86% of European students are now reporting “never being drunk” in the last 30 days (an improvement of 23% since 2003).  Another important indicator to be noted is the frequency of heavy episodic drinking which decreased by 28% since it peaked in 2007 (18% in 2007 down to 13% in 2015).  These positive trends can be observed for both boys and girls.

These ESPAD results reinforce the downward trend already shown in the WHO’s ‘Health Behaviour in School Aged Children’ (HBSC) study released in March.  These two major surveys point to decreasing trends in underage drinking in Europe, irrespective of whether or not countries have restrictive population measures, such as pricing policy or advertising bans, in place. 

Clearly, while we should celebrate the positive trend, there is no room for complacency.  A closer look at the data shows that alcohol consumption by minors varies greatly across Europe and that we need to continue assisting those most at risk. 

The fact that the incidence of underage drinking varies so much between different countries underlines the importance of targeted initiatives, which take local culture, context and issues into account.  We strongly believe that a one-size-fits-all approach, targeting entire populations, is not the answer.

Instead, combatting underage drinking, in partnership with local authorities and communities – which is a core and long standing commitment of our sector - should be the strategy pushed by the Commission and Ministries of Health.

Our members and their partners are vocal and active supporters of strict - and fully enforced - Legal Purchasing Age regulations but they also support programmes to change the social norms around underage drinking by engaging the most important determinants behind underage drinking: parents and peers. 

Earlier this year we shared an overview report of the work done by our colleagues at national level which has yielded extremely promising results.  Such an outcome is encouraging and we will continue to support life skills programmes as well as investment in initiatives that help parents and teachers in the battle against underage drinking.  Scientific evidence shows that such interventions positively influence risky behaviour patterns among youth, not just related to alcohol.


Paul Skehan, Director General*

*in his capacity as permanent representative of Skehan sprl