The proportion of people saying they drank heavily or frequently fell between 2007 and 2011, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest.
The change in attitudes to alcohol came after significant public health concerns were raised over increasing consumption by women in the mid-2000s.
The figures for the apparent drop in alcohol use in England, Wales and Scotland – part of an official snapshot taking in demographic, social and economic change over 40 years – came just days after an alliance of 70 health bodies and charities called for tougher action to limit sales and promotions, including cigarette-style graphic warnings and an end to drinks firms sponsoring sport.
The ONS said the proportion of men drinking on five or more days a week fell from 23% in 1998 to 16% in 2011 and that of women from 13% to 9%. But the drop only began to be seen after 2007.
Men and women over 45 are consistently more likely than younger people to drink that often. Heavy drinking (more than eight units on at least one day in the past week for men, six for women) has also dropped. Heavy drinkers among men aged 16-24 fell from 32% in 2007 to 22% in 2011, and among women of the same age from 24% to 18%.
Smoking also continues to tumble after years of public health campaigns and legislation, with prevalence of the habit among adults falling from 45% in 1974 to 20% in 2011. More curbs are expected with the coalition government planning to legislate on plain packaging later this year. The difference in smoking prevalence between men and women decreased from 10 percentage points in 1974 (51% of men and 41% of women smoked) to a two-point difference in 2011 (21% of men compared with 19% of women).
The ONS survey was based on about 15,000 interviews at nearly 8,000 households across the UK.
The Department of Health estimates the harmful use of alcohol costs the NHS about £2.7bn a year and 7% of all hospital admissions are alcohol-related. It is linked to more than 40 medical conditions including cancer, stroke, hypertension, liver and heart disease. Alcohol-related deaths accounted for almost 1.5% of all deaths in England and Wales in 2011.more