Major survey shows family and friends are key influences on teenage drinking

17 June 2011

A major survey of early teen drinking patterns in England released today (17 June) finds that drinking escalates to a worrying extent during these years. The research, conducted by Ipsos MORI for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, also finds that family and friends have a strong influence on teenagers’ drinking patterns, and are stronger influences than some other factors – such as individual well-being, celebrity figures and the media.

The detailed survey of 5,700 teenagers looked at the drinking habits of students in years 9 (aged 13–14) and 11 (aged 15–16). The study found that around seven in ten students in year 9, and nine out of ten students in year 11, had drunk alcohol, the majority claiming to have had their first drink by the time they were13. Around one in five students had been drunk multiple times by the time they reached 14; this number leapt to around half of students by age 16.

Pamela Bremner from Ipsos MORI, lead author of the report, said: "For the first time in the UK, this study ranks what most influences young people’s drinking behaviour. It found that the behaviour of friends and family is a strong influential factor in determining a young person’s relationship with alcohol."

Teenagers' friends have a significant impact on drinking behaviour. The odds of a teenager drinking to excess more than double if they spend more than two evenings a week with friends. Spending every evening with friends multiplies the odds of excessive drinking more than four times.

Parents have a particularly strong impact on their children’s behaviour with alcohol. Levels of parental supervision influence behaviour: for example, the odds of a teenager having ever had an alcoholic drink are greater if their parents do not know where they are on a Saturday evening or if they allow their child to watch 18-rated films unsupervised. Parents' own drinking habits also have an impact. The odds of a teenager getting drunk multiple times is twice as great if they have seen their parents drunk, even if only a few times, as those teenagers who have never seen their parents drunk. Ease of access to alcohol was also an important influencing factor on current drinking and drunkenness.

However, researchers found mixed messages about the ideal age and method of introducing teenagers to alcohol. In general terms, those introduced to alcohol when very young had greater odds of having had a drink recently and of having been drunk multiple times, but there were differences in the pattern for young people of different ages.

Claire Turner, Programme Manager for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: "This research shows that parents can have more influence on their teenagers’ behaviour than perhaps many assumed. Both what parents say, and how they behave, have a strong impact on their teenagers drinking, drinking regularly, and drinking to excess."

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