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Part 4: Drinking behaviours among adults
This section presents a range of information on drinking behaviours among adults including drinking prevalence, consumption and trends among different groups of society and geographical areas.
The main source of data for drinking behaviours among adults is the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN): Drinking Habits Amongst Adults carried out by the Office for National Statistics. This is an annual survey covering adults aged 16 and over living in private households in Great Britain, and concerns self-reported consumption on the heaviest drinking day in the week prior to interview.
Data have been provided for England unless otherwise stated. GB data is available from the source publication.
Information is also summarised from the Health Survey for England (HSE) which is published by NHS Digital and has been carried out since 1994. The survey is designed to measure health and health-related behaviours in adults and children in England.
Adult substance misuse statistics from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS) provides information on the number of people being treated for alcohol problems.
Health at a Glance, published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), provides international comparisons on alcohol consumption.
Drinking prevalence for adults
Drinking prevalence1 – last 10 years
58% of survey respondents reported drinking alcohol in the previous week in 2017 which is a fall from 65% in 2007.
This equates to 25.6 million adults2 in England. Those who drank more than 8/6 units3 on their heaviest day in the last week fell from 20% to 15%.
Drinking more than 8/6 units by age – last 10 years
The proportion drinking more than 8/6 units on their heaviest drinking day has fallen in the last 10 years for those aged 16-24 and 25-44. There has been little change for those aged 45-64 and 65 and over.
Drinking more than 8/6 units on heaviest drinking day in the last week by sex and age
The proportion of men drinking more than 8/6 units was similar by age apart from 65 and over where it was significantly lower. For women the proportion decreased with age.
Drinking more than 8/6 units on heaviest drinking day, by region and country
A higher proportion of drinkers in northern regions drank at least 8/6 units in one day on their heaviest drinking day of the previous week.
Type of drink amongst those drinking more than 8/6 units
Normal strength beer was the most popular choice for men, while wine (including champagne) was most popular with women on the heaviest drinking day in the week before interview4.
Drinking by annual income
Higher earners were more likely to drink alcohol.
79% of those earning over £40,000 drank alcohol in the last week compared to 47% of those earning up to £9,999.
1. The proportions are for all respondents. See source data for these proportions expressed as a percentage of those who had drunk in the last week.
2. Adults have been defined as persons aged 16 and over.
3. More than 8 units for men and more than 6 units for women.
4. Respondents could choose more than one drink.
Weekly consumption by gender
31% of men and 16% of women drank at a level indicating increased or higher risk of harm (more than 14 units per week).
Weekly consumption by age
Those aged 55-64 were the most likely to be drinking at higher or increasing risk levels1. Younger and older adults were the most likely to be non-drinkers.
1. Low risk = up to 14 units, increasing risk = more than 14 and up to 35 for women and 50 for men, higher risk = over 35 for women and over 50 for men.
UK alcohol consumption has decreased between 2000 and 2015. Lithuania and Belgium have the highest alcohol consumption.
1.Uses most recently available annual figure during the period 2013 to 2016. UK data is for 2015. More details are available in the source data.
2.Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Health Statistics.
Adult substance misuse
Numbers in treatment for alcohol problems – last 10 years
In 2016/17, 80 thousand were treated for problematic drinking alone which was a 5% decrease on the previous year.
28 thousand were treated for non-opiate and alcohol problems.
The 2016/17 report presents further analyses of these two groups.