New perspectives on youth drinking

Today, I would like to draw your attention briefly to two things: an upcoming event. And a positive trend.

In early April, the Kettil Bruun Society (KBS) will organise a thematic meeting on ”Youth Drinking in Decline”. During the conference, researchers from around the world will discuss the underlying causes and conditions for the decline in youth drinking and its implications for public health, policy and practice.

The latest reports have shown underage drinking to be at an all-time low across Europe. 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% (from 67% in 2003 to 51% in 2015 respectively) since the launch of the ESPAD survey (European School survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs). Another important – and positive – indicator is the declining level of intoxication: 86% of European students now report “never being drunk” in the last 30 days (an improvement of +23% since 2003). The frequency of heavy episodic drinking also decreased by -28% after it had peaked in 2007 (18% in 2007 down to 13% in 2015). These positive trends can be observed for both boys and girls.

The surveys point to decreasing trends in underage drinking in Europe, irrespective of whether (or not) countries have restrictive population-based measures, such as pricing policies or advertising bans, in place. They also show that across Europe, the incidence of underage drinking still varies greatly. Understanding more about the underlying reasons and causes will thus be a very useful exercise.

As an aside, the decline in youth drinking in recent years has coincided with the various activities rolled out under the umbrella of the European Alcohol and Health Forum (EAHF). While we would not dare to suggest a direct causal link between the two, we trust that the multi-stakeholder approach led by the European Commission has been a contributing factor for good along the way.

As European spirits sector, we remain fully committed to our efforts to fight underage drinking. Our members and partners are vocal and active supporters of a strict enforcement of Legal Purchasing Age (LPA) regulations, while also supporting programmes to change the social norms around underage drinking by engaging with the most important and relevant actors concerned: parents and peers.

We look forward to hearing more about the assessements and analyses on the underlying conditions for the decline in youth drinking over the last years. Any new learnings from the KBS conference that could help us adapt, tailor and improve our education and information programmes for greater impact will be very welcome.

Ulrich Adam*

Director General


*In his capacity as permanent representative of SPRL ADLOR Consulting