Researchers found that 29% of 16- to 24-year olds were non-drinkers in 2015, up from 18% in 2005.
And while young people are still the most likely to binge drink, rates of binge drinking — defined as drinking twice the recommended daily limits — fell from 27% to 18%.
The team at University College London analyzed data on almost 10,000 young people who had been interviewed about their drinking habits in the annual Health Survey for England between 2005 and 2015.
The findings show that non-drinking is “becoming more acceptable,” while “risky behaviors such as binge drinking may be less normalized,” the authors wrote.
“Both trends are to be welcomed from a public-health standpoint and should be capitalized on going forward.”
The researchers said it was “difficult to pinpoint a single factor” behind the trends, but suggested that increased awareness of the dangers of alcohol and tougher laws on its sale to minors may have contributed.
“Since the rise in non-drinking is widespread among young people, and not just among minority groups, we believe that the underlying factor is cultural,” the study’s lead author Linda Ng Fat, a research associate at UCL’s Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care, told CNN.
“More research needs to be carried out to investigate this further, whether the drivers could also explain declines in other risky behaviors we are witnessing among young people,” she added.
Health campaign groups have hailed the findings of the latest study, which support other recent studies that have noticed falls in youth drinking in the UK and US.
Just one in 10 English teenagers drank alcohol weekly in 2014, down from around half in 2002, the WHO said.
“This is really positive news,” Karen Tyrell, executive director of external affairs at drug and alcohol charity Addaction, said of the new study.
“But no one really knows the reason why these changes are happening,” Tyrell added. “We need to understand it properly, with longer-term studies, so we can support young people to continue the trend and find ways to replicate these reductions in other age groups.”