Attempting to accurately measure alcohol consumption among young people presents similar challenges to surveys of adults. Recall of their drinking can be erroneous and the majority of pupils’ drinking is in informal settings where the quantities they drink are not necessarily standard measures. They are also not very knowledgeable about the alcoholic strength of different drinks. See appendix B for more background on the methods that were used to measure alcohol consumption.
This part includes information on drinking prevalence, frequency, and alcohol consumption levels including drunkenness.
Changes to question to establish whether a pupil had drunk alcohol (2016)
Prior to 2016, the question used to establish whether a pupil had drunk alcohol was:
‘Have you ever had a proper alcoholic drink – a whole drink, not just a sip? Please don’t count drinks labelled low alcohol’.
Before the 2016 survey took place the questionnaire was tested with a group of pupils and this question caused confusion. In general, pupils thought the use of the word ‘proper’ meant the question referred to spirits only. They were also unaware of what would be considered a ‘low alcohol’ drink and some assumed low alcohol would include beer, cider, cocktails and alcopops.
In light of this feedback, the question was changed in the 2016 survey to:
“Have you ever had an alcoholic drink – a whole drink, not just a sip?”
Whilst this means the survey now gives an improved picture of the proportion of young people who have drunk alcohol, comparisons with years prior to 2016 are not possible. However, large directional changes such as whether prevalence has decreased over a long period of time can be made as the impact of the new wording is small in comparison, (although the exact size of the change cannot be calculated).
This change to the initial alcohol question may also have had an impact on the more detailed questions which follow. This is because some of these were only asked of those pupils who answered ‘yes’ to the initial question on drinking alcohol, so the change to this question may lead to a slightly different group of pupils answering the more detailed questions than in earlier years.
1. Viner R, and Taylor B, (2007) Adult outcomes of binge drinking in adolescence: findings from a UK national birth cohort. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 61: 902-907.