British drinkers have consumed less alcohol since the Licensing Act was updated in 2005, according to new figures compiled by the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA).
The industry body said the statistics, released today, prove that the relaxation of licensing laws has not "unleashed an apocalyptic ‘free for all' in alcohol consumption", as predicted by opposition MPs and the right-wing press.
Brits now consume less alcohol per head than the French, Spanish or Germans and rank 13th in the alcohol consumption league table of the 25 EU countries.
In 2006, the average Briton consumed 8.9 litres of 100% alcohol: a five-year low. In 2005, when the Licensing Act was introduced consumption levels stood at 9.2 litres. In 2004 levels were at a 25-year high of 9.4 litres.
However the average in 1990 was 7.9 litres while the average in 1980 was 7.4 litres.
Mark Hastings, BBPA director of communications, said: "While a small minority continue to use alcohol in an irresponsible way, it's clear that the change in the nation's licensing laws hasn't unleashed an apocalyptic ‘free for all' in alcohol consumption.
"Most people are beginning to heed the responsible drinking message, and we are seeing this clearly in these figures. Clearly with alcohol misuse still an issue, what these figures also emphasise is the importance of policies that target misuse, rather than consumption itself," he added.
The past 25 years have also seen a significant shift in the type of drinks Brits consume. In 1980 60% of alcohol consumed was beer with just 14% wine. On 2006 beer accounted for just 43% of consumption with wine increasing to 29%.
By Christopher Walton