28.9 million people report that they had drunk alcohol in the week before interview.
2.5 million people drink more than 14 units of alcohol on their heaviest drinking day.
Almost 1 in 5 higher earners drink alcohol on at least 5 days a week.
Young people are less likely to have consumed alcohol in the last week than those who are older.
A higher percentage of drinkers in Wales and Scotland drink over the recommended weekly amount in one day.
Wine is the most popular choice of alcohol.Back to table of contents
In Great Britain in 2014, there were 28.9 million people who reported that they drank alcohol in the week before being interviewed for the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey. This equates to 58% of the population.
Focusing on those who drank alcohol, 12.9 million (45%) drank more than 4.67 units (around 2 pints of 4% beer or 2 medium (175 millilitre) glasses of 13% wine) on their heaviest drinking day. This is a third of the recommended weekly limit - the value you would drink if you drank 14 units spread evenly over 3 days. Of these, 2.5 million (9%) drank more units in one day than the weekly recommended amount of 14 units (6 pints of beer or 1.4 bottles of 13% wine).
Young people were less likely to have consumed alcohol; less than half (48%) of those aged 16 to 24 reported drinking alcohol in the previous week, compared with 66% of those aged 45 to 64.
While overall being less likely to drink alcohol, young drinkers were more likely than any other age group to consume more than the weekly recommended limit in one day. Among 16 to 24 year old drinkers, 17% consumed more than 14 units compared with 2% of those aged 65 and over.
Men were more likely than women to drink alcohol, as well as consuming higher amounts. In the week previous to the survey, 64% of men had drunk alcohol, with over half (52%) drinking more than 4.67 units on their heaviest drinking day. In comparison, 53% of women had drunk alcohol in the previous week, with only 37% of those drinking more than 4.67 units on the heaviest day. Men were 3 times more likely to have drunk over 14 units on their heaviest drinking day, 12% of men compared with 4% of women.Back to table of contents
Focusing on frequent drinkers, those who drink on at least 5 days of the week, individuals with an annual income of £40,000 and over were more than twice as likely (18%) to be frequent drinkers compared with those with an annual income less than £10,000 (8%).
Almost 4 out of every 5 people (78%) in the highest income band (income of £40,000 or more) said they had drunk alcohol in the last week and alcohol consumption generally falls as income falls. Almost 3 in 10 (29%) people in the lowest income band classed themselves as teetotal (that is, they do not drink alcohol at all), compared with less than 1 in 10 (9%) for the highest income band.
The difference in percentage of those who had drunk alcohol in the previous week could be due to the characteristics of those in each income group. For example, overall women were less likely to drink alcohol in the previous week than men, but they were also the majority (67%) of regular drinkers in the lowest income group. As the income bands rise, one sees the proportion of male drinkers rise and female drinkers fall. In the £40,000 and over income band, 77% of those who stated they had drunk alcohol in the last week were men.
The age demographic of each income group may also partially explain the differences, as the higher income bands have a smaller amount of those aged 16 to 24, who are less likely to have drunk in the previous week. In each income group above £15,000, over 70% were aged between 25 and 64.Back to table of contents
London had the lowest percentage of people who had drunk alcohol in the previous week (51%), followed by Wales (53%). The highest percentages were in the South East (62%) and the South West (62%). The percentage of people that had drunk their weekly limit in one day was highest for Wales (14%) and Scotland (13%). For each region in England, up to 1 in 10 people had drunk more than 14 units in one day.
Across the regions of England and countries of Great Britain, London is the only area where over a quarter of people described themselves as teetotal. The lowest percentage of teetotallers was in the South West, where only 17% of people stated that they did not drink at all.
According to the 2011 Census, London and West Midlands were the most ethnically diverse areas, and this could be a reason why these regions have the highest percentage of people stating they were teetotal. Those who classify themselves as White were more likely to report drinking in the previous week (61%) than other ethnic groups, while 7 in 10 people who stated they were Asian or Asian British were teetotal, compared with 16% of those who said they were White.Back to table of contents
Just under half (47%) of people who had drunk alcohol in the week before interview chose to drink wine (including champagne) on their heaviest drinking day. This was followed by normal strength beer / stout / lager / cider (40%). The least popular drink was alcopops with less than 1%. Respondents of the survey were able to list more than one drink when asked what they chose to drink on their heaviest drinking day.
When analysing choice of alcohol by units consumed, the most popular choice of drink for those drinking up to 4.67 units was wine or champagne. The most popular drink for those who had drunk over 14 units on their heaviest drinking day was normal strength beer / stout / lager / cider.Back to table of contents
The data that relates to the discussions in this bulletin can be found in the datasets. As well as the points discussed, there are also tables available on:
- Drinking frequency in the week before interview, by sex and age, Great Britain, 2005 to 2014
- Proportion of the population who drank the stated amounts of alcohol on their heaviest drinking day in the week before interview, by sex and age, Great Britain, 2005 to 2014
- Drinking habits and economic activity, Great Britain, 2014
- Drinking habits, by level of education, Great Britain, 2014
- Drinking habits by socio-economic classification, Great Britain, 2014
- Drinking habits by age and whether person lives alone, Great Britain, 2014
- Drinking habits, by sex and whether dependent children live in the household, Great Britain, 2014
- Drinking in pregnancy, Great Britain, 2014
- Drinking habits and cigarette smoking, Great Britain, 2014
On 8 January 2016, the government released new proposed guidance on alcohol consumption. These guidelines recommend that adults do not regularly drink more than 14 units in a week, with these units being spread over at least 3 days. According to the Drinkaware website, 14 units of alcohol is the equivalent of 6 pints of 4% beer, 6 medium (175 millilitre) glasses of 13% wine or 14 standard measure (25 milliltire) glasses of a 40% spirit.
The Opinions and Lifestyle Survey asks those who drank in the previous week how much they drank on their heaviest drinking day. For 2014, new tables were created in line with these guidelines. The unit breakdown has been broken down into the following categories:
Up to 4.67 units
This value is a third of the recommended weekly limit. This is the value you would drink if you drank 14 units spread evenly over three days.
More than 4.67 and up to 7 units
Evidence in the new guidelines suggests that the risk of accident or injury increases when drinking this amount of units over 3-6 hours.
More than 7 and up to 14 units
Up to the level that men and women are advised not to regularly drink in a week.
More than 14 units
The equivalent of drinking more than the low risk guidelines recommend for regular drinking in a week, in one day.Back to table of contents
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