Teen drinking rates are significantly dropping in Europe, but consumption levels remain high, drinking patterns are riskier, and gender differences are disappearing.
Between the two worlds of childhood and adulthood, adolescence is a period of curiosity, self-discovery, initiation, and the search for identity.
This could make teenagers more vulnerable to Substance Use Disorders (SUDs), with alcohol topping the list of the most consumed psychoactive drugs, because it’s legal and readily available.
To identify with others, feel accepted, and to belong to the “group”, are some of the main reasons that push young people to drink alcohol.
Adults often regard teen drinking as a form of irresponsibility, opposition, and rebellion.
While teens are easily stereotyped as being more prone to alcohol use and abuse, which is true to some extent, data show that the trend is changing.
Teen Drinking: Generation Z is Drinking Less
On September 26, the Regional Office for Europe in the World Health Organization (WHO) published a report that reveals a decrease in alcohol consumption among European teenagers, with “the greatest declines in drunkenness observed in Nordic countries”.
The report, titled “Adolescent alcohol-related behaviours: trends and inequalities in the WHO European Region, 2002–2014”, is an analysis of a survey conducted by the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC).
HSBC has collected this data on teen drinking over 12 years from 36 European countries.
Among the key insights of the WHO researchers, we find that:
- “Excessive drinking is still common”, with 25% of boys and 20% of girls saying they drank two or more times by the age of 15.
- Down from 46% in 2002, 28% of 15-year-olds report they started drinking at age 13 or younger in 2014.
- While girls and boys in northern Europe report similar drinking levels, gender differences for weekly drinking are more noticeable in central-eastern and southern Europe.
- In 2014, 8% of teens report first being drunk at age 13 or younger, down from 17% when the survey started (2002).
But despite the overall decline in teen drinking, alcohol consumption levels are “dangerously high and this continues to be a major public health concern”.
The results of the analysis also reveal “more risky drinking patterns, such as getting drunk, multiple alcohol use, and early initiation”.
While teens nowadays may tend more to “socialize” over a Facebook post or an Instagram video than over booze, teen drinking is still a major issue that needs concerted efforts.
Generation Z seems to be less drawn to drinking than millennials, Gen X, or baby boomers, although they don’t really like this tag, and prefer (ironically, of course) the names “memelords” or “dazers”.
It’s true that each generation has its own challenges, but this very compartmentalization of society could be a problem, creating the idea of every generation as a distinct, homogenous entity that exists and operates independently from others.
When it comes to drinking problems in general, and teen drinking in particular, the debate and efforts should involve and target all segments of society.