Think about when you drank the most alcohol in your life so far.
Was it big nights out in your college years? Or later on, every day out to happy hour with colleagues and then at brunch with friends on weekends? How has the trend changed over time?
Your drinking patterns change throughout life — affected by friends, jobs, stress, children, money, and more. But knowing when people drink the most, both in quantity and in frequency, helps us understand society in general better. This informs doctors and other medical professionals of the sorts of trends are normal or potentially troublesome.
A new study published in the journal BMC Medicine shows how drinking patterns change throughout life in the UK for men and women, both in the quantity of alcohol drunk and in terms of frequency.
As you can see in the chart below, which shows the quantity of alcohol consumed by the average UK man and woman from adolescence through old age, the amount that people drink generally rises sharply when they are young — especially for men — before plateauing and eventually tapering off. Each “UK unit of alcohol” (on the y-axis) represent 8 grams of ethanol, which is about equivalent to the alcohol in half a glass of wine.
To find this data, researchers analysed 9 different studies that showed how drinking patterns changed for 59,397 people in the UK throughout their lives. Since these studies were not just surveys but instead followed these people over time, they help show how trends change for individual people, on average.
Findings showed that the amount that people drink usually peaks at around 25 years old at about 20 units (about 10 drinks, as we think of them) a week for men and seven or eight units (three to four drinks) for women. But the frequency of drinking increases as people age, especially for men. By the time that UK men turn 65, more than 50% drink daily or almost every day.
This is an average, and so of course these patterns won’t be the same for everyone, and some people’s might look completely different. Still, this does provide a good overall look at how drinking behaviour changes.
If these studies were done in the US, they might have some slightly different results. As the Washington Post notes, people in the UK drink more than those in the US. Also, less than 10% of the UK men are teetotalers, according to the survey, while up to 30% of the US population doesn’t drink.
Plus, at least in the US, 10% of the population is responsible for the vast majority of alcohol consumption, with that group averaging approximately 74 (!) drinks a week. A chart just for heavy drinkers might look different.
These trend lines reflect the average patterns in drinking consumption for people in the UK throughout their lives. The researchers say that in their upcoming work, they will look at how patterns vary for heavy drinkers, sporadic drinkers, and any other patterns they see.
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