Brits’ drinking levels lowest for a decade

ONS report finds lowest alcohol consumption levels for a decade with wealthiest drinking and bingeing more. Men drink more and young people less.

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Adult drinking habits in Great Britain: 2005 to 2016

Last week (3 May 2017) the Office of National Statistics published a major report on adult drinking habits. The main findings were:

  • In Great Britain, 56.9% of Opinions and Lifestyle Survey respondents aged 16 years and over in 2016 drank alcohol, which equates to 29 million people in the population.
  • 7.8 million people “binged” on alcohol on their heaviest drinking day.
  • Young people aged 16 to 24 years in Great Britain are less likely to drink than any other age group; when they do drink, consumption on their heaviest drinking day tends to be higher than other ages.
  • The highest earners, those earning £40,000 and above annually, are more likely to be frequent drinkers and “binge” on their heaviest drinking day when compared with the lowest earners.
  • In 2016, similar patterns of drinking were observed in England, Scotland and Wales; of the English regions, binge drinking was more common in the north.
  • Among men who “binged”, normal strength beer was the most popular choice of alcohol, for females wine was the most popular choice.

Further details are provided below.

Lowest proportion of alcohol drinkers since 2005

In 2016, among adults aged 16 years and above, 56.9% of respondents drank alcohol in the week before being interviewed for the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey, the lowest level seen since our time series began in 2005 (64.2%). This equates to around 29 million people in the population of Great Britain. Across time, there has been a similar reduction in the number of those who drank on 5 days or more in the week prior to interview. In 2016, in Great Britain 9.6% of adults (around 4.9 million people in the population) drank alcohol on 5 or more days.

Since 2005, there has been around a 2 percentage points increase in the number of people stating that they do not drink alcohol at all (that is, teetotallers). In 2016, of all people 20.9% (around 10.6 million people in the population) said that they did not drink alcohol.


Focusing on those in the population who drank alcohol (around 29 million people), 26.8% of adults (around 7.8 million people) in 2016 “binged” on their heaviest drinking day prior to interview.

Young people are less likely to have consumed alcohol; less than half (46.0%) of those aged 16 to 24 years reported drinking alcohol in the previous week, compared with 64.2% of those aged 45 to 64 years. Despite this, young drinkers are more likely than any other age group to “binge” on their heaviest drinking day. Among drinkers aged 16 to 24 years, 37.3% reported binge drinking on their heaviest drinking day in 2016 compared with just 10.3% of drinkers aged above the age of 65 years.

Finding generally higher levels of binge drinking among those aged 16 to 24 years could be due to the data capturing those who tend to drink a lot on a Friday or Saturday night and then not much else during the rest of the week. Data from other sources, which measure drinking habits on more than one day, show that the most harmful drinking tends to be among middle-aged drinkers, as these individuals are more likely to drink every day.

Men are more likely to be drinkers than women

In 2016, men were more likely to be drinkers than women. Specifically, 62.8% of men drank in the previous week compared with 51.3% of women. When looking at sex-specific patterns of binge drinking, 28.2% of males stated they exceeded 8 units of alcohol on their heaviest day, whereas 25.3% of females stated that they exceeded 6 units of alcohol. When looking at binge drinking by age and sex, for males aged 16 to 64 years, there tends to be very little difference in the proportion of those who “binged” on their heaviest drinking day. For females aged 16 to 24 years, the proportion of those binge drinking tends to decrease across these age bands.

Highest earners are heaviest drinkers and bingers

In 2016, almost 4 out of 5 people (77.4%) in the highest income band (annual income of £40,000 or more) said they drank alcohol in the last week and alcohol consumption generally falls with the level of income. Around 3 in 10 (29.4%) people in the lowest income band stated that they were teetotal compared with less than 1 in 10 (9.0%) for the highest income band. Binge drinking is also more common among those high earners. Specifically, binge drinking was two times more common among the highest earners (21.8%) when compared with the lowest earners (10.7%).


Blog posts in the drug and alcohol category are kindly sponsored by Breaking Free Group which has developed a powerful and adaptable digital health platform which targets the underlying psychological and lifestyle factors that drive addictive behaviours. Breaking Free has no editorial influence on the contents of this site.

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