British alcohol consumption and abstinence rates have substantially increased in the last three decades. Researchers analysed age, period and birth cohort effects to improve their understanding of these trends and suggest groups for targeted interventions to reduce resultant harms.
Data was taken from annual nationally representative samples of approximately 20,000 adults (16+) within 13,000 households. Age (8 groups: 16-17 to 75+), period (6 groups: 1980-84 to 2005-09) and birth cohorts (19 groups: 1900-1904 to 1990-1994).
Outcome measures were abstinence and average weekly alcohol consumption. Controls were income, education, ethnicity and country. After accounting for period and cohort trends, 18-24 year-olds have the highest consumption levels (p<0.001) and lowest abstention rates (p=0.002). Consumption generally decreases and abstention rates increase in later life. Until recently, successive birth cohorts’ consumption levels were also increasing. However, for those born post- 1985, abstention rates are increasing and male consumption is falling relative to preceding cohorts. In contrast, female drinking behaviours have polarised over the study period with increasing abstention rates accompanying increases in drinkers’ consumption levels.
The authors conclude that rising female consumption of alcohol and progression of higher consuming birth cohorts through the life course are key drivers of increased per capita alcohol consumption in the UK. Recent declines in alcohol consumption appear attributable to reduced consumption and increased abstinence rates amongst the most recent birth cohorts, especially males, and general increased rates of abstention across the study period.
Source: Trend analysis and modelling of gender-specific age, period and birth cohort effects on alcohol abstention and consumption level for drinkers in Great Britain using the General Lifestyle Survey 1984-2009. Y. Meng*, J. Holmes, D. Hill-McManus, A. Brennan, P. Meier Addiction. 2013 Aug 14