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Trends in alcohol consumption in Europe continue their positive course

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Over recent months, we have seen very welcome findings on drinking behaviours released by leading health authorities across Europe, particularly with regards to the decline in underage drinking. This contrasts sharply with misleading coverage which often suggests that overall consumption is dangerously on the increase, in particular since the pandemic started, writes spiritsEurope Director General Ulrich Adam.

The World Health Organization’s 2019 status report showed that average alcohol consumption in Europe fell between 2010 and 2016, and that there were particular decreases in average consumption and drinking rates among young people, as well as an 11% decrease in the prevalence of ‘heavy episodic drinking.’ 

This was not the only sign that positive changes are taking place across Europe: the latest ESPAD (European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs) report shows steady decreases in lifetime alcohol consumption among young people between 1995 and 2019 in the EU.

Compared to 2003, overall alcohol consumption fell by 22% and declined in nearly all Member States. Heavy episodic drinking fell by 19%, and 86% of the respondents reported never being drunk in the past month. 

We have just published a useful summary of this ESPAD survey highlighting the key findings. But these statistics do not cover the period since the arrival of Covid-19.

So how has the pandemic affected overall consumption trends?

Over the last year, concerns have been raised about how Covid-19 and the resulting lockdowns could threaten recent progress.

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Thankfully, far from giving rise to more irresponsibility, Covid has not altered the positive long-term trends when it comes to alcohol consumption and misuse. In fact, all the indications are that people have, overall, been drinking much less. Sensationalist reports focused on higher sales in some retail outlets ignored the dramatic declines in sales in bars and restaurants, where most drinking traditionally occurs.

For example, data from IWSR Drinks Market Analysis showed significant declines in alcohol consumption during the pandemic in most markets including across Europe. 

A growing body of independent evidence also points to a broader decline in all other social settings over the last year. 

A YouGov survey in 2020 – involving more than 11,000 people across a number of countries including France, Germany and the UK – found that 84% of drinkers were not consuming more alcohol than they had been before the lockdown, and more than one in three had cut down on their drinking or quit entirely. 

Meanwhile in the Netherlands, new figures from the Trimbos Institute showed that 49% of people aged 16-35 cut down on their drinking during the first lockdown compared to the same period in 2019, while another 23% consumed the same amount.

Simply put, regardless of those misleading headlines, all of the evidence points to a continuation of the long-term downward trajectory in both alcohol consumption and misuse. 

Of course, that does not mean that there is not more work to be done – far from it. 

There is no acceptable level of underage drinking, just like there is no acceptable level of the sort of heavy drinking which is detrimental to health. As an industry and as a society, we need to reflect on what we have accomplished, and the work that still lies ahead. 

The consistent progress which societies in Europe have made in reducing alcohol-related harm in recent years – and the continuation of this progress during the lockdowns – shows that we are on the right track and that the long-term positive trends are set to continue, as we start to reopen vital sectors of our economies.

One thing which millions of Europeans are looking forward to is the ability to enjoy a drink in bars and restaurants once again, safely, socially, and responsibly. 

spiritsEUROPE will continue to work with our partners in the hospitality sector to ensure that that reopening is achieved safely, and so that we can all continue to maintain the positive course towards a more moderate drinking culture across the EU.

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EU Reporter publishes articles from a variety of outside sources which express a wide range of viewpoints. The positions taken in these articles are not necessarily those of EU Reporter.

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