More than one in ten 14-year-olds binge drink

Just under half of young people in the UK had tried alcohol by the time they were 14, with more than one in ten saying they binge drink, new findings from Child of the New Century have revealed.

Researchers at the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at UCL, looked at information collected from more than 11,000 of you at 14, on your experiences of a range of different risky activities, including drinking, smoking and drug-taking. We previously asked you about drinking and smoking when you were 11.

Researchers compared your answers at age 11 and at age 14, and found big increases in the rates of both binge drinking (having five or more drinks at a time on at least one occasion) and smoking among the group. Less than 1 per cent had been binge drinking by age 11, compared to almost 11 per cent at age 14. 3 per cent had tried a cigarette by the time they were 11 with the figure jumping to 17 per cent by age 14. And around 6 per cent of 14-year-olds had taken drugs, mostly in the form of cannabis.

Young people who had smoked for the first time before they were 12 were also more likely to have a smoking habit by the time they were 14. 25 per cent of those who tried their first cigarette when they were 11 or under were regular smokers by the time they were 14. By contrast, a smaller proportion (15 per cent) of those who had their first cigarette when they were 12 or older had gone on to develop a smoking habit by age 14.

Comparing similar boys and girls, substance related activities were a little more common among the boys than the girls by age 14, and boys were also more likely to have started these activities at a younger age than girls; 20 per cent of boys had drunk alcohol by the time they were 11, compared to 14 per cent of girls.

Professor Emla Fitzsimons, one of the authors of the research and director of CNC, said: “Our findings are a valuable insight into health-damaging behaviours among today’s teenagers right across the UK. There is clear evidence that substance use increases sharply between ages 11 and 14, and that experimentation before age 12 can lead to more habitual use by age 14. This suggests that targeting awareness and support to children at primary school should be a priority. Our analysis also highlights the groups most vulnerable to being drawn into substance use who may benefit from additional support.”