The 2019 ESPAD data indicate a widespread popularity of alcohol among European adolescents, with an average of over three-quarters (79%) of school students having used alcohol in their lifetime and almost half (47%) having used it in the last month (‘current use’).
However, trend data show some steady decreases, with levels now lower than in 2003 when both ‘lifetime use’ and ‘current use’ peaked at 91% and 63% respectively.
The prevalence of ‘heavy episodic drinking’ (five or more drinks on at least one occasion, in the last 30 days) reached its lowest level in the 2019 survey (35%), following a peak in 2007 (43%).
The overall temporal changes in the prevalence of current alcohol use, as well as heavy episodic drinking, between the previous survey and the 2019 survey are negligible, indicating that the downwards trend has levelled off and remains rather constant in 2019.
Although beverage preference varies across ESPAD countries, overall, in terms of prevalence rates and perception of availability, spirits have gained ground over beer. While the differences in beverage preference between countries may be explained by differences in drinking culture, lifestyle and personal factors, the 2019 ESPAD results show that the distribution of preferred beverages in adolescents diverges from the traditional characterisation of drinking cultures in Europe.
Changes in drinking regulations at national level may have contributed to the decline observed in alcohol use among young people. Among the further reasons hypothesised to have contributed to this phenomenon across Europe, is the possible loss of popularity and appeal of alcohol drinking as symbolic rite of passage to adulthood.
Teenagers continue to be broadly exposed to alcohol adverts, also on social media and this might partially explain the still high prevalence of alcohol use detected by ESPAD. The evidence of a strong influence of the exposure to alcohol advertising on adolescents has led to the suggestion that stronger measures counteracting the exposure to alcohol advertisements might act as an effective policy measure in the adolescent population.
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