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This study investigated associations between self-reported illness, social factors and health behaviours and non-drinking among young people aged 18–34 years.Logistic regression analysis of cross-sectional national survey data, collected from the Health Survey for England 2006 and 2008. Data were collected through face-to-face interviews and are self-reported.A total of 2826 male and 3618 females aged 18–34 years drawn from a nationally representative multi-stage stratified probability sampling design across England.Non-drinkers were based on those who reported ‘no’ to drinking alcohol currently. Exposure measures included self-reports of having a limiting long-standing illness, long-standing illness or self-reported poor health. We adjusted for ethnicity, income, education, general physical activity and other factors.Having a limiting long-standing illness during early adulthood increased the odds of being a non-drinker 1.74 times for men (P < 0.01) and 1.45 times for women (P < 0.01). In both men and women belonging to the lowest income quintile or having no qualifications was associated with increased odds of being a non-drinker (P < 0.001), indicating that the social gradient in non-drinking begins at an early age. Men and women aged 18–34 years with the lowest activity levels were also more likely to be non-drinkers (P < 0.01).Young adults who have a limiting long-standing illness are more likely not to drink alcohol even after adjusting for a range of social and demographic measures. Studies on the putative health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption later in life need to take account of early life history.