William Eichler 20 September 2016

Binge drinking ‘social glue’ for students and young workers

Peer pressure and a ‘fear of missing out’ is driving binge drinking among students and young workers, study finds.

A new Demos report on youth alcohol consumption has revealed that despite an overall declining trend in youth drinking, consuming harmful levels of alcohol is still common in offices and on campuses.

Demos also identified a rate of binge drinking ten percentage points higher than the official statistics – with 29% of 16-24 year olds reporting excessive consumption, compared to 19% in the Health Survey for England (HSE).

The think tank’s research - published as Youth Drinking in Transition - found eight out of 10 students believe their university’s drinking culture is important, and two-thirds regard not drinking as a barrier to social integration.

Half of the students polled by Demos recognised there was too much drinking on campus, but those who drank were protective of what they characterise as a ‘rite of passage’ and argued policy-makers should not intervene.

However, the researchers did discover an overall cultural shift on university campuses towards drinking less and spending more time in coffee shops.

Heavy drinking is very common among young workers too, Demos reports.

Despite 67% of young workers reporting their socialising during the week takes place with friends outside of the office, 40% still feel that the drinking culture at work is important. 44% of those surveyed said they drink with colleagues, and 10% with clients.

Many of the young workers Demos spoke too said they were concerned that abstaining from alcohol could undermine their professional progression, and about a quarter cited peer pressure from colleagues to drink.

The think tank found drinking was most excessive among those in manual jobs (construction and manufacturing), followed by services (law, finance and communications). The lowest rates of binge drinking were found in public services (police, education and health).

In top professions, such as business, law and finance, drinking was identified as a powerful social currency, as well as a salve for the stresses of modern life.

32% of young workers report binge drinking having a negative impact on their work performance, whereas only 23% of students said it impacted on their studies.

‘Harmful drinking is on the decline amongst young adults, which is good news for policy-makers. But as our new research shows, this is not a victory won,’ warned the senior researcher at Demos, Ian Wybron.

‘The government likely does not know the true numbers drinking to excess. Alcohol remains the defining social glue for many young adults, with non- drinkers effectively excluded in many circles.’

‘Tackling excessive drinking cultures where they exist head-on, as well as encouraging more responsible norms and precedents at different life stages, is vital to building a more responsible drinking culture,’ he continued.

‘Excessive young drinkers commonly think that they will grow out of harmful drinking as they hit more ‘adult’ life stages. But it is clear that while many will indeed move on, for others dangerous precedents are set that are much harder to shift.

‘Government departments, universities and students’ unions, employers, schools, local community organisations, all have a role to play.’

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